From Sand to Lillesand
12 September 2009
Today I took my leave of the charms of small town Norway and began the drive back to Oslo. I drove south from Sand, passed through Stavanger where I toured the Oil Museum, and took the coast road to Lillesand. Last year I also took the coast road, though I mainly stayed on the highway. This time I took some of the secondary roads that run right along the rocky coast. There are spectacular views as well as beautiful little coves and inlets along the coast.
To see the Oil Museum and to pass through the countryside of Norway is to be reminded of the particular form that industrialization took in Scandinavia in general and Norway in particular. As the oil drilling rigs are interspersed among the rough seas of the north Atlantic, the occasional industrial concerns on land are interspersed throughout the largely unchanged landscape of Norway. Life is and can be completely transformed by industrialization, as we have observed in this forum on many occasions, and this transformation of life often brings a transformation of the landscape… but not always.
In Norway one sees the interpenetration of the traditional and the industrial. The ways of life represented by the traditional and the industrial are here not mutually exclusive, but continuous. Many people have a traditional family farm, or a cabin in the mountains or along the fjord, while also having their work in the industrial sector of the contemporary Norwegian economy. Here, industrialization appears — at its best — as an extension of life, as an improvement in the quality of life coupled with greatly expanded opportunities, rather than a transformation of life that involves the replacement of one way of life entire with another.
The kind of industrialization experienced by Norway is less likely to produce alienated labor on a large scale, but with the relatively small scale of the Norwegian population there is little that happens here on a mass scale. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned here. In pre-industrialized societies, while no everyone would ideally wish to be a subsistence farmer, almost everyone ends up doing so because there are few other options. In industrialized society the options for employment are greatly expanded, and if this expansion can open opportunities for individuals without creating the conditions for mass discontent, this is all to the good.
Different forms of industrialization are conducive to different forms of labor. The mass labor of the factory system is an undifferentiated as the inevitability of subsistence farming among pre-industrialized peoples. But not all industrialization takes this form. Consider, for example, the industrialization of the fishing industry, which has long been central to the Norwegian economy. In its early stages, the industrialization of fishing is likely to increase yields, to reduce the difficulty and danger of the fisherman’s labor, and (again, initially) does not create mass unemployment through automation. (Perhaps the experience of the industrialization of the timber industry in Finland is a similar case, although I am just speculating here.) The later stages of industrialization have changed many of these initial effects, but the time allowed for transition can be crucially important.
In so far as experiences of industrialization go, it is difficult not to see that of Norway as anything other than the optimal path of industrialization. Whether or not this continuity of tradition with industrialization could be accomplished any other place in the world remains an open question.
. . . . .