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Visions of the Rural: A new subordination?

Working Group 7: Visions of the Rural: A new subordination?

Elisabete Figueiredo [1], László Kulcsár [2], Pavel Pospěch [3], Jen Cleary [4], Jane Atterton and Sarah Skerratt [5]

1: University of Aveiro, Portugal; 2: Kansas State University, USA; 3: Masaryk University, Czech Republic 4: University of South Australia, Australia; 5: Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), UK

This working group invites contributions dealing with representations and imageries of rural areas and rurality. It addresses a broad field which includes cultural, social, policy and political representations, visual images and ways of rural marketing and self-marketing. The common theme is the conceptual position of rural in the discourse dominated by urban perspectives in the context of rural politics, policy-making power and legitimacy. The four specific topics highlighting this conceptual position are the following:

1. The politics of defence
Rural areas have traditionally been viewed as disadvantaged. The nature of this position has changed from looking at rural as backward to looking at rural as something to be preserved, but the relative inferiority of rural has remained unchanged, as well as the impetus for policy intervention in favour of the rural, albeit developing it from an urban perspective. This approach has been described by Bell (2007) as a Politics of defence towards the rural.

2. Rural tourism and its consequences
Despite its generally faint economic contributions, rural tourism is often seen as the engine of rural development. The expectations tourists place on rural areas and on rural populations in their search for ‘authentic' experiences often result in the ‘tourist gaze' (Urry 2002). The tourist gaze is reinforced through tourism promotion mechanisms, tourism operators, mass media, local governments, among others and this process induces changes in local communities which reflect the gaze back to become more attractive for tourists, reinforcing development stereotypes about rural places.

3. Urban views of the rural
The cultural images, representations and discourses on the rural are increasingly produced by urban dwellers and institutions. Many rural areas around Europe are open to a diverse set of urban consumptions which are strongly based on stereotypes of rurality. These aspects have a growing influence on the ways rural areas are presenting themselves as attractive spaces for urban consumptions and making their rural ‘brands' commercially attractive. Over time this has lead to a hegemony of urban views and discourses on contemporary rural development, displacing the local actors from the process.

4. ‘Speaking of rural’ and understanding policy
In developed countries, rural is often equated with agriculture; at the same time, within countries, there are often considerable differences in what constitutes the rural imaginary. We need to examine the ‘rural lexicon’ in order to understand differing policy responses to rural development and thereby create a new rural imaginary. Different meanings within the rural lexicon are implicitly enacted in policy with consequences for the direction, resilience and sustainability of rural. The aim is to understand what is meant when we are all speaking of rural, and how this translates into (policy) actions for rural sustainability. 

The papers will address, among others, the following topics:

  • the politics of defence and the government policies to address inequalities
  • the outcomes of the politics of defence for the rural actors and their attitude towards it
  • the institutional reorganization of the politics of rural development and its legitimacy
  • the consequences of rural tourism activities for local development
  • the promotion of rural areas and its institutional background
  • the interactions between rural tourism and other local activities
  • the demands, expectations and ‘gazes' of rural tourism
  • the urban views of rurality in various discourses (expert knowledge, politics, art etc.)
  • the values imposed on the rural by diverse actors and the conflicts in values
  • comparative rural policy approaches in different countries