Identity and history in the age of local government reform

The article discusses how arguments grounded in local identity; tradition and history have been used in debates on the Norwegian municipal geographical structure since the 1950s. Strong local identities have generally – both among supporters and opponents of reforms aiming at fewer and larger municipalities – been regarded as sources of legitimacy for the bodies of local self-government, and premises for well-functioning local democracy and municipal services. Still, there have been fundamental differences: The opponents of the reforms have tended to regard identities primarily as products of history. Thus, state-implemented structural reforms, especially those violating the will of local opinion, have represented a threat to local self-government. Supporters of such reforms, on the other hand, have emphasized that local identities are not constant. They change, among other things, as a result of new means and patterns of communication. Based on this logic, history, traditionalism and reluctance to accept structural reforms are seen as the real threats to local self-government. By changing the geographical boundaries, the hope is to establish municipalities with a higher degree of interdependence and a stronger commonality of interest. In recent years, the supporters of local government reforms also have argued that the municipalities might create, change or strengthen local identities more actively.