What is the global countryside?

Posted by Michael Woods, 21 Aug 2014

Welcome to a new blog and website for the GLOBAL-RURAL project, which over the next five years will be exploring how processes of globalization are reshaping rural localities, economies and societies to produce what we call the emergent ‘global countryside’.

We are all familiar with ‘global cities’ such as London, New York and Tokyo, but the prominence of the global city in geographical research perhaps the way in which the globalization of rural space and society has been somewhat overlooked. In popular perception at least, there are three common ideas about globalization and the rural. The first imagines that rural areas are somehow immune to, or at least less affected by, globalization than cities, and therefore offer a kind of refuge from global culture where authentic local cultures and identities are preserved – an illusion that contributes to the ongoing appeal of the mythical ‘rural idyll’. The second idea associates globalization with ‘time-space compression’ and imagines that improvements in transport and communications have eroded the disadvantages of peripheral rural locations, allow rural economies to compete on an equal footing with urban economies. The third idea holds that rural areas are the victims of globalization, with traditional rural cultures and endogenous rural businesses crushed beneath the juggernaut of globalization with no capacity to resist.

Each of these three perceptions are of course flawed, and the reality is much more complex, messy and geographically variegated. The concept of the ‘global countryside’, which I suggested in a paper in Progress in Human Geography published in 2007*, aims to capture some of this complexity. Although proposed as a counter-part to the global city, I argued that no rural places have been fully globalized, and that the global countryside is thus a work in progress, with localities being changed by engagement with global processes and networks, but still remaining different to other places. Indeed, I suggested that rather than being something imposed from above, globalization proceeds through relatively small, incremental changes within localities, including the fusing together of local and global entities to produce new hybrid entities. One important implication of this approach is that it means that rural communities do have the agency to affect the outcome of globalization processes – maybe not to hold them back completely, but at least to divert, modify and manipulate them.

It is these processes of globalization working through rural localities and the diverse outcomes that result that we will be investigating in the GLOBAL-RURAL project. To assist our analysis we will be drawing on a number of academic concepts including ‘assemblage theory’ and ‘counter-topography’, which we will explain and discuss in subsequent posts. We will also be employing a wide range of research methods, both quantitative and qualitative, and carrying out fieldwork in diverse case study locations from Wales to Queensland, from Newfoundland to New Zealand, and China to Brazil. Our conception of globalization is broad, encompassing trade liberalization and the stretching of commodity chains, foreign direct investment and disinvestment, the role of transnational corporations, land-grabbing, amenity migration and labour migration, cultural convergence, growing global consciousness, and responses to so-called ‘global challenges’ such as climate change, food security, energy sustainability, water resources and biodiversity. We will also be examining what we call ‘everyday globalization’ – changes in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the tv programmes we watch, the places we go on holiday, the social networks we have and so on – through an in-depth study of the Welsh town of Newtown.

You can find out more about the research design on the ‘About’ page, or listen to me talking about the project here.

We will be posting regularly on this blog with news and updates about the project, reports from fieldwork locations, maps and visualizations, observations about current events and news stories, and links to related research and interesting websites. We will also be uploaded papers and presentations from the GLOBAL-RURAL project and other outputs on the website. You can also follow us on Twitter @globalrural for updates.

* Woods, M (2007) Engaging the global countryside: globalization, hybridity and the reconstitution of rural place, Progress in Human Geography, 31: 485-507 (DOI (subscription required)).


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