“Sensing one another”


The authentic identity of Varde is a blank area waiting to be discovered.

Back in April and May, we had the exciting and challenging task of conducting an ethnographic mapping of the cultural identity of the Municipality of Varde. The aim of the mapping – which was commissioned by the City Council as part of an extensive vision and branding process – was to identify the key strengths and potentials of the area.

The methods
Bringing notebooks, video cameras, tape recorders and a range of questions, my anthropological colleagues and I set out to conduct fieldwork in Varde. While we use a variety of methods when mapping places and organisation – e.g. desk research, statistical data – the most importants methods are anthropological. Visiting, observing and talking to local citizens from all walks of life gives nuanced and valuable insight into the values, perceptions and characteristics of a place.

The data
In Varde we gathered verbal, visual and physicial data material from all corners of the municipality. In total we visited and conducted in depth interviews with 45 citizens, among who were representatives of business (industry, tourism, farming), civic associations (cultural and sports), the municipal organization as well as “ordinary citizens” (youth, families and elders).

Blogfoto, Young people consider Varde a “safe pocket”
Young people consider Varde a “safe pocket”.

“A safe and compfortable pocket”
The anthropological approach makes it possible to craft a nuanced analysis of the identity of the municipality with a keen eye to common themes as well as differing positions. Many of the citizens we interview stress the value of living in a place where “everybody knows everybody”. Young people represents the municipality as a “safe and comfortable pocket” – a place where “nothing bad happens” – and as a secure social environment where they would be more than happy to have their (future) kids grow up.

“We fix it ourselves”

The feeling of living in a “safe pocket” is closely related to the history of Varde. Historically, the peasant and small farmers of the windy, sandy and scarcely populated coostal areas have been dependent on each other in order to make a living. Many citizens of Varde still value not being dependent on the state or municipality in their daily life. “Out here, we don’t sit and wait for someone from the municipality to come and fix things – we fix it ourselves”, I was explained. This autonomy, however, is only possible because of their close dependency on their local social relations.

“Sensing” is important in Varde. See the video with Edith and Ruth, where they are explaining what ‘sensing one another’ means at the Stagis Youtube-channel.

“We sense one another”
In an interview with two elderly ladies, the quality of caring for, helping and looking after one another was captured in the phrase “vi sanser om hinanden” (“we sense one another”). According to the official conventions of Danish language, the phrase does not exist. But it does in Varde.

In the local understanding “at sanse” (“to sense”) implies taking care of the necessary practical and social responsibilities in daily life. Thus, you can “sense home” (i.e. washing clothes, baking bread, doing the garden) or you can “sense somebody” (i.e. helping your neighbour, looking after the grandchildren or keeping an eye on the old couple living across the street).

Why one phrase matters
The way in which two old ladies use a certain phrase might seem irrelevant for large scale political business such as formulating visions for the future. It is not, however. The fact that there exists a unique word to describe this kind of social caring (“sensing”) signals its importance for the cultural identity of Varde – and hints that this kind of social caring need to taken into account as an authentic strength when formulating strategic visions for the future. But often it requires an anthropological exploration to discover this.

The autenthic strengths of the Municipality of Varde
On basis of a structured analysis of the extensive data material gathered during fieldwork we defined the following qualities as the primary authentic strengths of the Municipality of Varde. These strengths constitute the building blocks from which an ambitious vision for the future fo the municipality can be crafted:

  • Safety and inner peace. A distinct feeling of security, safety and comfort is shared by many citizens in Varde. It is  associated with notions of “the good life” and of being present in the moment.
  • Community and voluntarism. Their is a strong tradition for local level organisations based on voluntarism and mutual interdepedency. The world’s first dairy cooperative was established in Hjedding – situated in the middle of the Municipality – in 1882. Today different modes of cooperative organisation is used for village development projects.
  • The beautiful and rough coastal nature. The nature of Varde is special. It is rough, beautiful and unique. Historically, the citizens of Varde have used and shaped their natural surroundings – lakes have been drained to create fertile agricultural land, plantations planted to hinder sand drift. More recently Varde has been the scene of major nature restoration projects (Filsø, Varde Å, etc.)
  • Coastal tourism. With 4.5 mio. overnight stays a year, the Municipality of Varde is the second most visited municipality in Denmark – only surpassed by Copenhagen. Coastal tourism is a unique strenght with a huge potential for future development. New products and experiences – local food production, gastronomy and an even more active use of the natural environment as recreational ressource – could lead to year-round-tourism in the municipality.
  • Health and well-being. In general, the people of Varde are healthy and active. The municipality has good sports facilities and the average living age of the population is above the national average. The well-being of the citizens is closely connected to feelings of safety, inner peace and the close social relationships and networks in the local communities.

Read about other Municipalities Stagis has helped to create strong brands here where we telle about our work in Kolding.

Antroprologi er en af de bedste metoder til at undersøge og gå på opdagelse. Denne gang lød opgaven på at afdække Varde Kommunes særlige styrker og potentialer. Derfor havde jeg i maj måned sammen med et par kollegaer fornøjelsen af at spendere en del uger i Varde Kommune. Perioden bød på både gode og overraskende oplevelser, ikke mindst da Ruth og Edith lærte mig om udtrykket ‘at sanse om hinanden’. Se et minuts uddrag af mit interviem med dem på Stagis’ Youtube kanal.
Ordvalget var på sin vis afgørende, da det siger meget om Varde Kommune. Her har man har sit helt eget udtryk for den omsorg, man er gode til at drage om hinanden.