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XXVIIth ESRS conference – Uneven processes of rural change: On diversity, knowledge and justice
July 24, 2017 - July 27, 2017
Europe is facing multiple processes of change that affect the rural in many ways: demographic evolutions, migration flows, renewed urban-rural relations, the rise and fall of alternative food networks vis-à-vis the seeming omnipresence of powerful food consortia, the changing power of constituencies of the rural, changing patterns of land use and valorizations of natural resources, rapid technological developments, etc. These change processes do not occur in isolation, but are embedded in a package of often interrelated external meta-trends (such as climate change, geo-politics, global markets) that position rural spaces in broader dynamics and result in uneven processes of change. The European Society for Rural Sociology has explored many of these processes in former conferences.
These uneven processes of rural change are interconnected and multi–level, involving multiple actors and governance approaches. They reaffirm the inadequacy of outdated concepts and dichotomies such as the urban–rural divide, the globalization–localization dichotomy or the disciplinary/academic segmentation of a more complex reality. They are no longer able to capture the complex nature of today’s Europe, its countryside and ongoing processes of change therein. We can question how we (in our multiple roles as scientists, citizens, policy makers, members of the business community or NGO representatives) can deal with this. In the context of this conference, we wish to explore processes of rural change from three interrelated perspectives.
a. Mirrors and the richness of diversity.
In our multiple post-era (post-modernity, post-consumerism, post-liberalism, post-normal science, post-disciplinary, post-humanism, among others), increasing diversity is recognized in multiple domains. These include evolutions in technological developments and new combinations of societal and scientific fields, leading to new practices such as social innovation, urban agriculture, social-cultural valuation of ecosystem services, low-carbon farming or short-chain systems. There are also different cultural interpretations of ‘a sustainable rural’ and complementing and contradicting interpretations of desired pathways towards sustainability. These diversities are at the same time rich and comfortable (creating fertile breeding grounds for creativity) and threatening (creating confusion, injustice and fear of the unknown). How does ‘the otherness’ in terms of perspectives, disciplines and socio-economic fields mirror one’s own values, paradigms and positions? And where (to what kind of actions and policies) does this diversity lead?
b. Whose truth, whose voice? Rural change and the creation of multiple knowledges.
The rural has been approached by different disciplines that can either enrich or compromise each other (economics, STS, natural sciences, demography, sociology). The diversification in society and science challenges traditional theoretical and methodological approaches of rural sociology in analyzing and interpreting rural change. This questions the role of rural sociology vis-à-vis other ‘sciences of the rural’. Moreover, ‘scientific truths’ are complemented with multiple kinds of knowledge from other societal actors. How can we juggle these different knowledges: local; practitioner; policy; research; etc.? Do we have the skills and the motivation to become truly interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary in our research? If our ‘laboratory’ (the rural) is changing, what are the methodological and theoretical consequences for the discipline ‘rural sociology’ and its relation with other disciplines? What are the consequences for the role of the researcher in policy making, in innovation processes and so on? How are ‘uneven processes of rural change’ reflected in our own discipline, in our research agenda and collaborative networks with industry, civil society and policy organizations?
c. Winners and losers. Rural change and the question of justice.
The material and intangible flows between and within places, and the dynamic interplays between newcomers and longstanding residents, lead to processes of inclusion and exclusion that give rise to questions of justice – environmental, social, technological and economic. Questions of justice and equity relate to outcomes of rural change, but also to the principle of inception for change. How are opportunities distributed? What are the emerging socio-spatial configurations within and between rural spaces? How are the physical and non-physical sites of exclusion and of inclusion shaped?
The processes of rural change and the three elements of diversity, knowledge and justice lead to reflections about the significance of ‘the rural’ for a Europe in transition. Transition towards resilience and sustainability does not stop at the rural or urban fringes, at the borders of disciplines or practices or regions – it is simultaneously affecting all of aspects of Europe. What then can be the (new) roles and meanings of ‘the rural’ and ‘rural sociologists’ in contemporary Europe?
All three cornerstones of the conference theme will inspire invited speakers, working groups, and other activities at the conference. We are happy to welcome you to Krakow!
On behalf of the Scientific Committee
Prof. Joost Dessein