When Fidel Castro went tobogganing

News of the death of Fidel Castro has reminded me of a curious story I came across whilst carrying research for the GLOBAL-RURAL project in Newfoundland, Canada, this last summer. It was the early-1970s, and the frostiness of the Cold War was equalled only by the bitterness of the Canadian winter. One anomaly in the geopolitical map, however, was Gander Airport in Newfoundland, where flights between Cuba and the Soviet Union would stop for re-fuelling. So it was on Christmas Eve 1972 Fidel Castro found himself transiting through the small Canadian town and perhaps entranced by the winter wonderland outside (some say it was the first time he had seen snow), set off with his bodyguards to go tobogganing on the gentle slope beneath Hotel Gander, watched by bemused locals.

fidel-castro

Fidel Castro in Gander, Christmas 1972 (Photograph from North Atlantic Aviation Museum, photographer: Ian Blackmore)

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GLOBAL-RURAL at IRSA

Members of the GLOBAL-RURAL research team are at the International Rural Sociology Association congress in Toronto this week and we have a busy schedule of papers and other contributions.

We have organized a Session on ‘Globalization and Everyday Life in Rural Communities’ (IRSA_35), which runs over three sub-sessions on Saturday 13th August:

‘Everyday experiences of agricultural globalization’, 9am – 10.30am, Room TRS1077

‘Communities, mobilities and technologies’, 11am – 12.30pm, Room TRS1077

‘Rural communities in new global economies’, 2pm – 3.30pm, Room TRS1077

There’s also a linked session on ‘Daily Practices in the Global Countryside’ (IRSA_34), organized by Natasha Webster, on Friday 12th, 4pm – 5.30pm, in TRS1077, and we’re combining to hold a panel session on ‘Researching the Everyday Global Countryside’ (IRSA_34B), on Saturday 13th, 4pm – 5.30pm, in TRS1077, chaired by Michael Woods and with panellists Jesse Heley, Branka Kavokapic-Skoko, Rosana Vallejos and Natasha Webster, which will reflect on both sessions and discuss the practice of researching globalization in rural communities.

We’re giving four papers during the week from GLOBAL-RURAL and related research:

Anthonia Onyeahialam and Michael Woods, ‘A globalized gaze into Ikeji Festival: What to the Aros stand to lose or gain?’, Session IRSA_29A, Thursday 11th August, 9-10.30am, Room TRS1119.

Michael Woods, ‘Precarious Rural Cosmopolitanism and Everyday Spaces of Engagement’, Session IRSA_34A, Friday 12th August, 4-5.30pm, Room TRS1077. Presentation slides available here: Precarious rural cosmopolitanism and everyday spaces of engagement

Fidel Budy, ‘Moving out, moving up: out-migration of men contributes to women’s empowerment and autonomy’, Session IRSA_35B, Saturday 13th August, 11am-12.30pm, Room TRS1077.

Marc Welsh, Jesse Heley and Laura Jones, ‘Bottling globalization in rural localities’, Session IRSA_35C, Saturday 13th August, 2-3.30pm, Room TRS1077.

We also have a poster displayed as part of the poster exhibition on Thursday and Friday:

Anthonia Onyeahialam, Laura Jones and Michael Woods, ‘From sheep to shop: the wool assemblage’, part of Session IRSA_70 Poster Presentations and Display, Thursday 11th August 1-5pm and Friday 12th August 8am-5.30pm, Sears Atrium, Engineering Building.

Additionally, Michael Woods will be speaking as a panellist on the book review panel for ‘Constructing A New Framework for Rural Development, edited by Pierluigi Milone, Flammina Ventura and Ye Jingzhong’ (Session IRSA_44B) on Friday 12th August, 11am-12.30pm, in room TRS1129

 

 

Catching-up

We’ve been fairly quiet on here lately as we’ve been busy carrying out research for the GLOBAL-RURAL project in Ireland, New Zealand, Taiwan and here in Wales. There’s lots to report from this research and we’ll be doing so in a series of blog posts shortly.

In the meantime, we have uploaded copies of recent presentations by members of the GLOBAL-RURAL team to our publications and presentations page. These include:

  • Paper presented by Michael Woods at the American Association of Geographers’ Annual Meeting in San Francisco on ‘(Re-)Assembling Foreign Direct Investment in an Irish Small Town’, with some early emergent findings from our research in Ireland. AAG presentation 2016

Wageningen presentation 3

  • Presentation by Jesse Heley and Laura Jones to the SUSPLACE Marie-Curie Training Network at their workshop at Wageningen University, on ‘Researching Rural Change and Globalization’. Wageningen Workshop Presentation

Estonia lecture 1Estonia lecture 4Estonia lecture 5

 

  • Lecture to the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs and Estonian National Rural Network by Michael Woods as part of their International Lecture series, discussing ‘Rural Development and Globalization’ with examples from GLOBAL-RURAL and the earlier DERREG project. Estonia presentation Woods
  • Keynote address by Michael Woods on ‘The Rural Routes of Globalization’ to a one-day symposium on ‘Les espaces ruraux périurbains au prisme du capital’ organized by LADYSS at Université Paris 8 at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Paris Nord.The rural routes of globalisation
  • The 2016 J.D.K. Lloyd Lecture presented to the Powysland Club in Newtown by Michael Woods on ‘Newtown and the World: Everyday globalisation in a Powys town’, exploring historical and contemporary global connections. Newtown and the World
  • Plenary lecture on ‘Assemblage, Globalization and the State’, presented by Michael Woods to the Warwick Political Geography Conference on (Dis)Assembling State Spaces. Warwick assemblage paper

We’ve also welcomed two new members to the GLOBAL-RURAL team, post-doc researcher Francesca Fois and postgraduate researcher Fidel Budy, whose details are on the research team page.

Finally, if you are interested in following our research on ‘everyday globalization’ in our case study of Newtown in mid Wales, check out our new Assembling Newtown website, which presents emerging findings and stories from the study and has information about our ongoing research activities and how people in the community can get involved.

 

Call for Papers: Two Sessions on Everyday Globalization and Rural Life, IRSA 2016 Toronto

TWO SESSIONS ON EVERYDAY GLOBALIZATION AND RURAL LIFE AT IRSA 2016 TORONTO

Paper proposals are invited for two related sessions on ‘Daily Practices and Global Countrysides’ and ‘Globalization and Everyday Life in Rural Communities’ at the International Rural Sociology Association Congress, 10-14 August 2014 at Ryerson University, Toronto.

Details of the sessions are outlined below. Session 34 focuses in particular on migration and mobility, whilst Session 35 engages with a wider range of globalization processes and experiences. The session organizers will liaise in the selection of papers and papers may be moved between the sessions to produce coherent groupings of topics.

Paper abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted through the conference website by 1 November 2015. Successful submissions will be notified by 15 January 2016 and presenters will be expected to register for the conference by 1 April 2016.

SESSION 34: DAILY PRACTICES AND GLOBAL COUNTRYSIDES

Organizer: Natasha Webster, Stockholm University

International migration to rural areas is a growing trend in many countries and this trend is an important part of social and economic development (Hedberg and Haandrikman, 2014). Rural migration stems from many contexts including refugee placement, family connections, marriage migration and labour migration. These migrants bring to rural areas a plethora of translocal and transnational social relations that are maintained and stretched across rural social spheres (Woods, 2012).

This session focuses upon relational mobilities of the global countryside and understanding the specifities of rural mobilities within the context of daily practices. Mobility is understood as multifaceted, spatial and temporal where daily practices, for example, cooking or telecommunications, are seen as creating translocal and/or transnational relations. This point of departure challenges not only traditional views of migration as a one-way flow but also underscores the role of rural migrants as builders of rural spaces and places. In exploring daily practices of global countrysides we invite papers that examine a wide range of mobility perspectives including gender, race, class, and sexualities within these contexts as well as issues of rural belonging, inclusion and exclusion from a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives.

SESSION 35: GLOBALIZATION AND EVERYDAY LIFE IN RURAL COMMUNITIES

Organizers: Michael Woods, Jesse Heley, Laura Jones and Marc Welsh, Aberystwyth University

The study of globalization in a rural context has commonly focused on large scale structural changes, transnational commodity chains, or dramatic examples of deindustrialization, land-grabs, mass migration or rapid transformation into tourist resorts. For the majority of rural communities, however, globalization is experienced in more incremental and mundane ways. Processes of economic globalization alter employment opportunities and conditions, raise or depress income levels, and change patterns of local service provision. International in-migrants and returnee migrants can foster cultural hybridity, but also create competition for housing and jobs, whilst the emigration of migrant labours can require remaining residents to take on new roles and adapt their lifestyles. Global communications technologies can overcome social and physical isolation, open up new opportunities for education, leisure and business, stretch social networks, and encourage new aspirations, but also facilitate cultural globalization, challenging established traditions.

This session calls for papers from all parts of the world that examine the impact of globalization on everyday life in small towns and rural communities. Possible topics include, but are not restricted to:

  • The impact of foreign direct investment, corporate takeovers, plant closures or migrant labour on employment opportunities and conditions;
  • The insertion into small towns and rural communities of supermarkets and corporate chains, access to internet shopping, changes to consumer behaviour and the consequences for local businesses;
  • The effects of lifestyle and economic migration on housing and public services, intra-community relationships and community events, including the introduction of new foods, languages and cultural practices;
  • The role of global communication technologies in reconfiguring social relations, the consumption of popular culture, education opportunities and aspirations, including for young people and previously marginalized lifestyle groups;
  • Pressures from globalized values on local customs and traditions, including hunting and land and animal husbandry;
  • Out-migration, changing gender roles and the contribution of remittances.

Reflections on a Summer of Conferences

By Michael Woods, 12th September 2015

As the nights start drawing in it’s time to reflect on a busy summer of conferences for the GLOBAL-RURAL team. Since the end of June, we’ve presented eight papers and a poster at six different academic conferences, starting with the WISERD conference in Cardiff, and continuing with the Quadrennial UK-US-Canadian Rural Geography Conference, the IGU’s Commission on the Sustainability of Rural Systems Colloquium in Portugal, the European Society for Rural Sociology Congress in Aberdeen, and most recently, the Royal Geographical Society’s Annual International Conference in Exeter. Nor is the conference season over quite yet, with Anthonia Onyeahialam presenting maps from the ‘Visualizing the Global Countryside’ strand of our work at the Open Source GIS conference in Korea this coming week.

Copies of our presentations to these conferences can be found on our publications and presentations page, but the value of participating in academic conferences for us is not just in talking about our research (and receiving helpful feedback and questions and suggestions), but also in hearing about the research that other people are doing – and right now there’s a lot of interesting work on globalization and rural areas going on. So here’s my brief reflections on some highlights of the summer, and some of the things that I’ve learned.

A glimpse of the alpha version StoryMap tour of Newtown

A glimpse of the alpha version StoryMap tour of Newtown

Back in July, it was our pleasure to host the 8th Quadrennial UK-US-Canadian Rural Geography Conference – together with Swansea University – and to guide 35 rural geographers from Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States around Wales with an intensive programme of presentations, field visits and croquet. For the GLOBAL-RURAL team it was a unique opportunity not only to report on our on-going study of everyday globalization in the mid Wales town of Newtown, but to try out some innovative methods for disseminating this work. So it was that we despatched our geographer guinea-pigs out on to the streets of Newtown with tablets and smart-phones loaded with a Storymap tour of the town and its global connections. The exercise usefully (if frustratingly) demonstrated some of the technical challenges that this method of communication faces, but also elicited some excellent feedback from our colleagues about the content and style of presentation that will help us to refine this approach. It was also a great exercise for prompting us to think about  how Newtown as a place has been assembled over time and the recurrent influence of global connections in this process, from investment of Davies family money derived from coal exports, to the internationalization of the wool trade, to the legacy of Newtown-born, cooperative-pioneer Robert Owen – about which Marc Welsh has written on our Assembling Newtown blog.

Trying out our Newtown tour

Trying out our Newtown tour

The conference theme was ‘Global Challenges and Rural Responses’ and many of the papers provided insights into the ways in which globalization is re-shaping rural economies, societies and communities. Several presentations explored the dynamics of local and global food systems, with Renata Blumberg, for example, describing the rise of alternative food networks in Lithuania and Latvia as a response to the global economic crisis, and Damian Maye revealing the different emphases of food security discourses in different countries. Margareta Lelea, meanwhile, demonstrated the complexities of global-local interactions, discussing how the adoption of international standards for food safety in Kenya had undermined local food networks and the capacity of rural communities to feed themselves. Other papers focused on international migration and the diversifying cultural mix of rural regions. Dick Winchell, for instance, showed how Latino immigration in Washington State maps on to areas of post-war rural modernization and irrigation programmes; whilst Levi van Sant presented a sobering corrective, charting the dwindling numbers of African-American farmers in South Carolina during the twentieth century. Martin Philips, Peter Nelson and Darren Smith in a trio of papers presented early work from the fascinating iRGENT project, investigating international perspectives on rural gentrification, with Darren coining the term ‘Sothebyisation’ to describe the role of transnational real estates in developing an international market in elite property sales. Finally, a reminder of the persistence of the periphery in the age of globalization came from Ryan Gibson, with a discussion of the challenges faced by the Strait of Belle Isle region in Canada, with capital extracted by multi-nationals and local capacity compromised by a segmented political geography.


 

Croquet break at the UK-US-Canadian Rural Geography Conference

Croquet break at the UK-US-Canadian Rural Geography Conference

Participants in the UK-US-Canadian Rural Geography Conference in Aberystwyth

Participants in the UK-US-Canadian Rural Geography Conference in Aberystwyth

 


A fortnight later, the IGU Commission on the Sustainability of Rural Systems Colloquium in Portugal provided me with an opportunity to talk about rural responses to globalization in a keynote lecture, drawing on the GLOBAL-RURAL case study of the closure of the Moreton sugar mill in Nambour, Australia, as an impact of global economic restructuring, which I’ve discussed in a previous blog post. It is, however, the conference fieldtrips that stick in my mind as illustrating the impact of globalization in the Portuguese countryside, and confirming that these impacts are not necessarily new. A visit to the Duoro wine-producing region, in particular, provided evidence of how the distinctive viticulture-based economy and landscape of the region had been assembled over time from the combination of the region’s unique climate and topography, the business acumen of British port merchants (whose names still adorn the vine-clad hillsides), the development of export markets in 18th century Europe and North America, and, critically, the grafting of American and European vines in the late 19th century to enable the vineyards to survive the plague of phylloxena, which botanical collectors had inadvertently introduced to Europe.

Branding of British-founded port companies in the Duoro landscape

Branding of British-founded port companies in the Duoro landscape

Destinations of international trade in port, 18th century (from Duoro Museum)

Destinations of international trade in port, 18th century (from Duoro Museum)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The port wine assemblage continues to dominate the region today, but other sites visited revealed more recent international influences: from the Korean company investing in solar power farms north of Lisbon, to entrepreneurs reviving artisan salt-pan production for niche export trade, to the small town of Ponte de Lima attracting tourists with an International Garden Festival.

Reviving artisan salt pans on Ilha da Morraceira

Reviving artisan salt pans on Ilha da Morraceira

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The International Garden Festival in Ponte de Lima

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Portugal to Scotland, and the GLOBAL-RURAL team were out in force for the European Society for Rural Sociology congress in Aberdeen, including an excellent pre-congress workshop on Digital Technologies and Visual Research Methods organized by the James Hutton Institute, which sharpened our ideas and techniques for trying visual methods in our Newtown case study. In the conference proper, Laura Jones and Jesse Heley presented on our research on the entanglement of the Welsh wool industry in the global wool assemblage, detailing how the introduction and refinement of non-human components have facilitated re-configurations that have enrolled Welsh farmers in international networks at the cost of local traceabiity (Laura has also written about this research in a blog post). Elsewhere, an impressive series of papers interrogated the dynamics of international migration in rural areas, with examples from across Europe and beyond. My own paper discussing the interesting case of Chinese farmers in late colonial Queensland as a possible example of early rural cosmopolitanism (which I will discuss further in a later blog post), was neatly complemented by Branka Kravokapic Skoko’s presentation on contemporary rural cosmopolitanism in Australia today, including the remarkable story of Katanning, WA, a small agricultural town with a mosque at its heart and strong inter-faith and inter-cultural relations. Ingrid Machold, meanwhile, demonstrated how international migration is responsible for the positive demographic balance in rural Austria; whilst Robyn Mayes’s paper in the same working group raised important questions about the body in international labour migration and the global circulation of a corporate workforce in sectors such as mining.

Finally, we returned to our theoretical framework at the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) Conference in Exeter, convening an exhilarating session on Assembling Globalization. We used our own paper to test out our developing thoughts on how to operationalize an assemblage approach to analysing the affects of globalization on place; but my mind was left reeling by the barrage of ideas and arguments from the other contributions to the session. Andy Davies countered our DeLanda-influenced approach with a strident call for a more radical assemblage theory, truer to its Guattarian roots, whilst Martin Jones’s barn-storming paper advocated the concept of plasticity as a fix to assemblage theory’s perceived weaknesses. Tarje Wanvik and Havard Haarstad’s paper on carbonscapes introduced the interesting idea of an ‘assemblage converter’ to describe the role played by the world oil price in affecting change in the landscapes of Alberta and Norway; whilst Martin Mulligan explored assemblage perspectives towards community resilience, and papers by Mor Shilon and Clara Rivas Alonso presented rich empirical applications of assemblage theory in urban analysis, examining case studies of Ben Gurion Airport in Israel and struggles over urban space in Istanbul respectively. I for one left Exeter with much to think about, a long list of reading to follow-up, and a desire to continue the dialogue in other forums.

So it’s been a hectic but stimulating summer and we have returned to Aberystwyth charged up with new ideas and possibilities that will be finding their way into the GLOBAL-RURAL research as we launch into the next round of fieldwork in Wales and Ireland this autumn.

PhD opportunities with GLOBAL-RURAL

We have two fully funded PhD students available at Aberystwyth University from this October (a January 2016 start is also possible) as part of the GLOBAL-RURAL project:

 1)      Globalization and Rural Change in Africa

The PhD will explore the impact of globalization on rural livelihoods and localities in Africa through in-depth place-based case study research. The PhD research may focus on any aspect of globalization that is relevant to understanding change in rural Africa, including, for example (though not necessarily limited to): trade liberalization and the development of export-oriented agriculture; international land investments (‘land-grabbing’); migration; the conversion of land to biofuel production for international markets; export-oriented mining operations; international tourism; or the implementation of global conservation models (including the displacement of indigenous peoples).

 2)      Small Town Global Engagement, 1860-1960

The PhD will explore the evolving international connections of a rural small town over the century from 1860 to 1960, including economic networks and trading relations, patterns of in- and out-migration, military service and cultural influences. The study will identify and trace these connections and examine their impact on the town and its residents. The research will be primarily focused on Newtown in mid Wales, but the student will have the option of extending the study, for example by introducing a second comparative case study or by following selected networks with fieldwork in linked locations. It is anticipated that the study will be largely based on archival research, but may also involve other methods such as oral history, or historical GIS, at the discretion of the student.

Both studentships include tuition fees (UK/EU student rate) and a stipend of £13,726 per annum. Funds are also available to cover travel expenses for fieldwork and conference participation. The studentships are open to students with a good honours degree (2:1 or above) in an appropriate subject, though preference may be given to applicants who have completed or are studying towards a relevant Masters qualification.

Applications should be made by 3rd August 2015 following the application procedure described at http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/postgrad/howtoapply/  and using application form available there, accompanied by a proposal of 1,000 – 1,500 words which should outline how the applicant proposes to address the topic, including a brief review of relevant previous literature, identification of research questions, data sources and methods, and a timescale for the research.

Further information can be found at:

http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/iges/prospective/postgraduate/phd-opportunities/

To discuss the studentships informally please contact Michael Woods at m.woods@aber.ac.uk

Defining the rural in global society

Posted by Michael Woods, 21 April 2015

I spent a few days last week in Washington, D.C., participating in a workshop organized by the National Academies for the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) on the classification of rural areas. Like many countries, the United States has an unwieldy assortment of different definitions of rural areas, which are used for different statistical purposes or to discern eligibility for different government programmes. Even the best established and most widely used of these classifications have become increasingly problematic over time. The US Census Bureau, for example, defines urban areas as being settlements with a population of more than 2,500 residents, and by default classifies everywhere else as rural. Yet, the the 2,500 threshold is based an assessment made in 1920 that a population of that size was required to support a ‘full range’ of urban functions. Today, the assumptions in this statement need to be thoroughly critiques, not least because service provision tends to be more concentrated than it was in 1920, and because certain key services, such as malls and supermarkets, have moved out of towns to ‘edge city’ locations.

The practical difficulties of using the 2500 population definition have resulted in an alternative classification, produced by the ERS and designating ‘metropolitan’ and ‘non-metropolitan’ areas, becoming widely employed as a proxy for rural areas. Yet, as evidence presented at the workshop shows, the metropolitan/non-metropolitan classification is problematic because the metropolitan areas it identified are so extensive.For instance, not only do metropolitan counties cover nearly half of the US continental land area, but they are also home to more than half of the nation’s ‘rural’ population as defined by the Census Bureau’s classification.

A further motivation for the workshop was that ‘rural’ areas are becoming increasingly integrated into urban areas, with their social, economic and cultural lives looking very much like urban social, economic and cultural features, leading some to question whether the category of ‘rural’ is at all useful anymore. However, this assertion in itself is an unconscious reproduction of discourses of rurality as defined from an urban perspective. This was a point that I made in the presentation that I had been invited to contribute on ‘Defining the Rural in an Age of Metropolitan Society’, but even as I was writing the paper I became increasingly convinced that I was asking (and answering) the wrong question.

It may have made sense in the mid- to late- twentieth century to map how rural areas had been incorporated within the metropolitan fields of various cities, and therefore to identify distance and accessibility as key dimensions underlying relative degrees of rurality. However, the twenty-first century might look very different.

Take, for example, the ‘isolation’ of rural areas, as captured in the ERS’s new map of ‘Frontier and Remote Areas‘, which is based on travel time to urban centres of varying population size. This model presumes that there is a singular and linear relationship between a rural area and its nearest urban centre. However, with internet and cell phone connections, physical isolation is not necessarily the same as social isolation as individuals participate in globalized social networks, nor do rural residents necessarily travel to the nearest larger town to buy consumer goods – not when they can be bought online. This is not to say that all rural areas have equal access to services and resources, but rather that connectedness can no longer be simply measured in traveling time to an urban centre, but needs also to take account of broadband and telecommunications coverage and speed.

Similarly, whilst commuting patterns may still be shaped by the pull of one or more major employment centres, individuals leaving rural areas for education or employment are now heading to a diverse range of destinations for different periods of time, including major cities in the U.S. and overseas, as well as off-shore and remote on-shore energy operations. At the same time, food processing plants in rural small towns are now in  practice recruiting employees from a continental labour market of migrant workers. Moreover, tourists and recreationists are not necessarily visiting from the nearest city, and in-migrants into rural areas may be drawn from anywhere.

Rural areas are also no longer tied to particular franchises of television station in regional media markets, but consume news and entertainment from across the world via the internet, and rural businesses are developing export markets worldwide, not just supplying the local big city. Indeed, in many cases the relationships emerging are rural-to-rural, bypassing cities altogether and challenging the long held assumption in economics that cities function as the driver of economic development for their surrounding rural areas. Moreover, the very way in which we understand life in the countryside, and how we imagine rural areas in our minds, is being globalized as films, television programmes and books are distributed worldwide. As such, the perception of rurality held even by rural residents likely to be as strongly influenced by the hybridized representation of the farm and countryside presented in Disney films or US or UK made television programmes than in any direct experience of living in a rural community.

All in all, therefore, we need to be thinking about rural areas in the twenty-first century not just in relation to the metropolitan society of  regional cities, but also in terms of how they fit within an increasingly globalized economy and society and how they retain a ‘rural’ identity in this expanded context. The result, I suspect, will not be a neat delineation of rural and areas that can be definitively mapped and used to replace current definitions, and neither will it help to overcome the vested interest in particular rural classifications linked to particular funding schemes that makes any wholesale re-definition of categories politically difficult – what one participant in the workshop referred to as the ‘political economy of definitions’ – but it might help us to assess the needs and opportunities of rural areas in a global age.