Revisiting “New rural geographies in Europe: actors, processes, policies”

 

Looking back at RuralGeo 2017 a few weeks later, we would like to share with you some conclusions we have drawn from the conference. Especially we would like to bring up what we have learned for the field of rural studies in Europe, and on rural geography, more specifically. The insights build on the feedback by the conference participants, our own observations during the organising process and the topics discussed at the conference.

First of all, as the spokesperson of the German Rural Geography Group, Ingo Mose, concluded in his farewell address, the involvement of over 120 participants from 19 countries even beyond Europe prove that rural areas and the research field of rural studies in Europe matter a lot. There are a lot of scholarly disciplines interested and engaged in this field – besides geography it is sociology, agricultural science, agricultural economics, architecture, cultural anthropology, planning science, economic science, to mention but a few. Next to the interest in fundamental research in all of these disciplines we clearly identified the importance of applied research along with a notable interest of practitioners to learn from science for their field of work: practitioners had joined the conference as well. Like Ingo Mose so appropriately observed, there is a definite implication of our work for the practical organisation of society, especially since rural areas often seem to mirror societal problems of larger scales. Therefore, we as researchers in the field of rural studies “have the obligation to challenge this political dimension of our work as well by providing sound and reliable scientific analysis that will allow people with a political responsibility to hopefully make the right decisions”, said Ingo Mose.

This responsibility in the societal and political dimensions leads us to reconsidering the initial purpose of the conference as of both establishing a platform for regular exchange on research on rural areas as well as promoting a more transnational, European approach to our scholarly field. Given this background, we can draw the following scientific conclusions; further we can provide and an outlook for the fields of rural studies and rural geography from this gathering of scholars working on Europe:

  • The multifaceted problems identified and researched by our community are often not limited to specific national territories. Thus, research is to adopt a more transnational European perspective, especially since in many public debates rural areas are held responsible, for example, for diverging voting behaviours and societal polarisation. It is us researchers that have to critically examine such spatial “traps” and develop sophisticated methodological tools for analysing specifics of rural regions as well as commonalities with non-rural areas”. During the conference we noted that such a European approach to rural areas should be fostered strongly. Many research projects were framed in their national contexts as qualitative case studies. For the future we should thus promote especially cross-national comparative studies to learn more about the “European” in the rural to finally produce a sound theoretical body for analysing rural areas in Europe.
  • From the many contributions to the conference by a multitude of disciplines we have been reminded once again that rural areas are complex constructions which we need to properly identify and disentangle. These complexities were mirrored in the various approaches to rural areas in the different disciplinary understandings. To enhance the – indeed fortunately already existing – communication between the scholars engaged in rural geography, we should not get tired to explicate what we indeed mean when we talk about “rural areas”. Like that, we will not only better appreciate our colleagues’ contributions to the field, but we will in general gain a more comprehensive understanding of actors, processes and policies in rural areas. Finally, therewith we will be able to indeed contribute to the improvement of conditions in rural areas in a globalising world.

Anna-Barbara Heindl & Annett Steinführer (local organising committee)

To comment on our conclusions and to engage in discussions with the RuralGeo community, we invite you to use our twitter hashtag #RuralGeo2017!