Sri Rohana Rathnayake

Cultural economies and local development: the role of return migrants.

PhD candidate

  • Sri Rohana Rathnayake


Cultural economies are increasingly becoming a driver of local development. Cities in Europe and North America have been extensively using cultural economies as a strategy for revitalizing deindustrializing central cities. Current research emphasizes urban agglomerations of commercial cultural industries over local knowledge, skills and values in rural areas, particularly in the global south. Furthermore, cultural economies in the rural-global south often undergo diverse impacts of return migration. Returnees bring new ideas, values and resources and transform local processes embodied in rural cultural economies.

This research aims to investigate the transformative influence of return migrants on rural cultural economies by questioning how returnees act as 1) ‘innovators’ of transferring new knowledge and ideas to local processes, 2) ‘investors’ who expend accumulated financial and other types of resources in local economies, and, 3) ‘identity creators’ who build reputation and competitive advantage of creative communities. Research methods, such as informal interviews, focus group discussions, observations and audio and video recordings are used for empirical work focusing on a rural brassware community in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Turning the spotlight to rural areas and the global south may change how we conceptualize the cultural economies. This broadens the understanding of (i) how appropriate are the concepts and measures of the current cultural economy discourse when we apply them to rural-global south, and, (ii) what lessons can we impart from these specific geographies rather than simply accepting what comes from the global north. Exploring how and where returnees are using new knowledge, skills, values and resources helps build understanding of how they influence rural cultural economies. The research helps to identify new development potentials associated with rural cultural economies and return migration, such as tourism and new industrial and entrepreneurial developments. This may also help decision makers to critically examine current local development policy and action, particularly in the rural-global south.