Breaking away from the set path; how change agency created new paths in a locked-in region

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Who, how and when can initiate industry diversification in regions dependent on extractive industries? This paper contributes to the understanding of the role and limitations of local agency through an in-depth case study of a small resource dependent region in the Swedish northern periphery. Since the mine opened 120 years ago, Kiruna’s development path has been heavily dependent on the mining industry and a single state-owned firm. When forced to restructure after the steel crisis in the 1970’s, it became apparent to many local actors that diversification of the economy was needed to make the region more resilient against future external shocks. However, the mining company has remained a key player in the region also after the crisis, and is among the state’s most profitable firms. As a stable local employer, the mining industry in Kiruna is important for the local labour market, as well as for national finances and Europe’s steel industry. This leaves local actors dependent on the industry, on decisions taken outside the region, and with little room for agency.

Nevertheless, in this very structurally constrained region, new paths have emerged over the last 30 years, despite the continued dominance of the mining industry. Two paths have developed towards tourism and space, both unrelated to mining but dependent on local natural resources, land and the scarce labour pool. Although strategy documents and formal decisions show the municipality’s intention of supporting diversification processes, the mine continuously needs local support. Today, ground deformations due to mining activity forces the entire city centre and 6000 inhabitants to move. Once again, the focus of local policy makers is directed towards the mine. Using material from 21 interviews as well as supporting documents, this paper takes a long-term perspective and sets out to answer questions of why and how these two new paths have been developed, their relations to other local paths, and what the role of agency is in this process. Seeing that agency can be distributed, it takes a multi-scalar and multi-actor approach to analyse the role (and limitations) of agency on a local level. The case of Kiruna hereby enhances our understanding of the scope of local agency in a place heavily constrained by an extractive industry, and contributes to the scientific debate (Frangenheim et al., 2020; Grillitsch & Sotarauta, 2020; MacKinnon et al., 2019) concerning the role of agency in path development.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Aug 26
EventERSA Congress: Territorial Futures - Visions and scenarios for a resilient Europe - Virtual Edition
Duration: 2021 Aug 242021 Aug 27
Conference number: 60th


ConferenceERSA Congress
Abbreviated titleERSA
Internet address

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Free keywords

  • Agency
  • Kiruna
  • Diversification


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