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Turning possibility into reality? Alternatives to neoliberal rural policy

Working Group 1: Turning possibility into reality? Alternatives to neoliberal rural policy

Sophie Wynne-Jones [1], Steven Emery [2], Michael Woods [1], Karl Bruckmeier [3], Imre Kovách [4], Parto Teherani-Krönner [5]

1: Aberystywth University, UK; 2: Birmingham University, UK; 3: National Research University – Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russian Federation; 4: Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Sociology, Budapest, Hungary; 5: Humboldt University Berlin, Germany

The potential of rural societies to survive and prosper in the context of a turbulent and reformulating neoliberal world is dependent, in a large part, upon peoples' ability to organise and act politically. However, the increasing interest in food and growing initiatives in recent years has not yet involved a serious evaluation of their political and socio-economic implications upon circuits of social and economic capital. In this session we invite a focus upon rural and agrarian actors and organisations across various scales, typologies and political orientations - from loose informal groupings through to formalised unions, co-operatives, collectives and social-movements in both the Global North and South – and the innovative practices of production, consumption and ways of life that they promote.

In confronting neoliberal policies, new social movements such as La Via Campesina have taken up the difficult search for alternative futures, trying to reconnect people, land and nature. These movements and projects can be seen as the “seeds of post-neo-liberalism” in the sense of revaluing subsistence economy, aiming at the decommodification of nature and natural resources, and renewing in a market-based rural economy the claim to develop new forms of locally and ecologically rooted rural livelihoods, societies and cultures. As such, the working group is concerned with the spectre of ‘possibility', which is affecting such organisations, our understandings of them, and their growing diversity. There are also new ways of theorising which place ‘possibility' centre-stage, with post-structuralist epistemologies offering ways to see beyond (or through) current configurations of order and power, applying more plural, relational, rhizomatic and emergent interpretations.

The working group invites contributions that explore these issues around two key themes. The first theme focuses on the modes of organization and political potency of rural social movements and actors of new governance, addressing questions around the potential for wider mobilisation beyond the ‘militant particularism' of local struggles; and the tensions present within movement-organising and co-operative working between self-interest and care beyond-the-self. We invite papers that examine any of the following: (a) The particular characteristics of different civil and public organisations, what they look like and do, for who and why (especially vis-a-vis neoliberalism); (b) The place of the political within organisations; (c) The political potency of different organisations (either singularly or comparatively) and how this is mediated by the issues/factors/characteristics discussed in (a); and (d) The political potency of this new diversity of organisations as a whole: whether possibility itself is an illusion of free choice or provides collective dexterity.

The second theme focuses on the projects and initiatives developed by rural social movements and other actors as “seeds” of alternatives to neoliberalism. We invite presentations that give examples of such “seed”-projects. Possible ideas include, but are not limited to, the following themes: new rural forms of production (food and non-food products, social land use); new rural cultures of consumption (food and meals, slow food, local food and geographically identified food); revitalization of rural culture and rural images, new rural forms of using natural resources (against the commercialisation of nature); rural community life, closing gender gaps, addressing rural poverty and social integration of newcomers and migrants; new relations between rural and urban areas  (beyond urban colonialisation of the countryside); projects to combat disadvantaging of rural people and groups through dominant policies; new forms of land use (in peri-urban and urban agriculture, social land use).