Sexing up rural places appeals to trend-conscious city dwellers

The rural offers desirable and credible meanings, especially for young adults and trend-conscious hipsters living in cities, finds Tuomas Honkaniemi in his doctoral dissertation in regional studies.

– Sexing up rural places is a novel approach to conceptualising the rural. It uses credible and interesting visuals, the mixing of rural and urban images and the millennials’ generational experience, says Honkaniemi, who will defend his dissertation at the University of Vaasa on 2 June.

– These characteristics create a new image of the rural that especially appeals to trend-conscious younger city residents who are not traditionally considered to be interested in it.

Companies sexing up rural places have a positive impact on the rural

According to Honkaniemi, the new rural image is being created by Finnish companies that operate in different sectors in rural areas and heavily utilise characteristics perceived as local in their marketing and visual appearance.

The activities of such companies promote a positive image of the rural.  Many of the companies, including Kyrö Distillery, the honey company Sugardaddies, the furniture company Hakola and the design company Myssyfarmi, manufacture consumer products.

– The rural is presented as a source of inspiration and fascination. These companies have an important role in creating credible meanings especially associated with the rural.

The merging of the rural and urban

The merging of the meanings between the rural and the urban manifests itself as the spatial localisations of rurality and urbanity. The companies bring the rural to the urban and vice versa.

– As a consequence, through these spatial localisations, the rural and the urban are mixed and seen as complementary to each other. Examples include music festivals with urban features in a rural setting and companies that are sexing up rural places to sell their products in an urban setting.

Take the image of the rural seriously

There is a demand for an updated interpretation of the rural. Honkaniemi considers it important that research and development should see the rural as part of Finnish society in a wider sense.

– The rural has often been presented as an ideal place to live. However, the traditional image of the rural, tinted with hay barn romance and Suomi-Filmi film aesthetics, has remained naive and narrow. Furthermore, the role of the rural should not be approached solely from the perspectives of nature, mental well-being or primary production. The vitality of the rural rests on being taken seriously not only functionally but also image-wise.

Tuomas Honkaniemi’s doctoral dissertation is conducted in the fields of rural studies and cultural geography. It examines the cultural, functional and meaningful rural-urban relations in the framework of relationality. The data consists of theme interviews for companies and optical fibre operators in rural areas in Finland, a visual image analysis of Kyrö Distillery’s (Isokyrö, Finland) website, and focus group interviews with consumers.

Tuomas Honkaniemi

Doctoral dissertation

Honkaniemi, Tuomas (2023) Maaseutuja kaupungissa – Paikkaseksikkyys-ilmiön relationaalinen tulkinta. Acta Wasaensia 508. Doctoral dissertation. Vaasan yliopisto, University of Vaasa.

Publication pdf

Doctoral defence

The public examination of M.Sc. Tuomas Honkaniemi’s doctoral dissertation “Maaseutuja kaupungissa – Paikkaseksikkyys-ilmiön relationaalinen tulkinta ” will be held on Friday 2 June 2023 at noon at the University of Vaasa in Auditorium Wolff.

Research Director, Docent Sulevi Riukulehto (University of Helsinki, Ruralia Institute) will act as the opponent and University Lecturer Ilkka Luoto as the custos. The public defence will be held in Finnish.


Further information

Tuomas Honkaniemi

Tuomas Honkaniemi was born in Vaasa in 1988. He graduated from Vaasan lyseon lukio upper secondary school in 2007 and obtained a Master’s degree in Administrative Sciences at the University of Vaasa in 2014. He currently works as a university teacher in Regional Studies at the University of Vaasa.

Did you like the article?