The Mountains of Leon Rural Development and Optimism

Notes towards Transformative Learning Paradigm


One of the significant issues facing rural Spain is a sense of pessimism and lack of hope encompassing many communities and inhabitants. Massive de-population, a radical increase in the average age of the remaining population, a steady yet incessant widening in the gap between public and private services in rural and urban areas all lead to the sense of helplessness in many rural communities. But I am convinced that theatre and other cultural activities can be used to help rural communities examine the impact of these social trends upon their lives, their families and livelihoods and even help them search for strategies to eradicate these negative and disempowering effects.

On so many occasions rural communities are locked into a cycle between fatalistic optimism and blind optimism. The aim of a typical Spiral project is often to encourage a movement away from this cycle to one which places emphasis tranformative optimism.

  • TRANSFORMATIVE OPTIMISM - looks at social power with emphasis on collective action. It is hopeful about the future.
  • BLIND OPTIMISM - This shies away from examining balances of power. It indicates “oblivion conditions” that prevent consciousness of self determination.
  • FALALIST OPTIMISM - Recognises the problem of unequal power yet is without hope of changing it.
  • RESILIENT OPTIMISM - Transforms at the individual level and gains hope transforming social power imbalances.

In March this year I directed a devised play with a group of local performers from the mountains of Omaña, Leon. The company contained ex-miners, teachers, pensioners, farmers, students, a nurse and house keepers. Over a period of weeks we developed a play about the fictitious “Javier”, a man deciding to return to his village after an absence of some decades in order to begin a business in Ganadería (cattle farming). Over ten scenes the play
presented the difficulties encountered by this character. These included:

· Resistance from his aged father, a farmer who still farms in a traditional manner.

· The reaction of local resident to Javier´s wife, a city girl from Barcelona

· The resistance of the Alcaldesa to the idea

· The lack of infrastructura professional (associations etc).

· Lack of social and economic solidarity between other farmers

· The complexity of official help from the Junta and EU regulations.

The piece was devised for a specific reason. In the region of Omaña there was to be a weekend meeting of farmers to discuss the extraordinary range of difficult issues facing them at the moment - and specifically the advantages and disadvantages of setting up a cooperative. 

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