‘The Global Countryside: Rural Change and Development in Globalization (GLOBAL-RURAL)’ is a major research project funded by the European Research Council. The study aims to advance our understanding of the workings and impact of globalization in rural regions through the development and application of new conceptual and methodological approaches.
Globalization has a pervasive influence in transforming rural economies and societies, with implications for the major societal challenges of environmental change and resource security. However, in comparison to studies of the global city, relatively little research has focused on the ‘global countryside’, and existing research lacks integration. GLOBAL-RURAL will develop an integrated perspective by drawing on relational analysis (and particularly the approaches of ‘assemblage theory’ and ‘countertopography’) to focus on the actual mechanics by which rural localities are ‘re-made’ through engagement with globalization processes, examining the mediating effect of national and regional context and the opportunity for local interventions.
The project, which started in February 2014 and runs until January 2019, is organized around five work packages.
Work Package 1, (Re-)Assembling the Global Countryside, focuses on developing the methodological and conceptual application of assemblage theory to analysis of the reconstitution of rural places in globalization. It will examine questions about the significance of globalization in changing the material and expressive composition of rural places and their territorialisation, as well as about the performance and discursive representation of globalization in rural space, and explore historical antecedents of contemporary globalization-led restructuring. This will be done through research in six illustrative case study regions in Newfoundland (Canada), Norrland (Sweden), North Island (New Zealand), Queensland (Australia), Wales (UK) and the West of Ireland.
Work Package 2, Mapping and Narrating the Global Countryside, applies GIS techniques to map globalization processes and networks impacting on rural localities, and to construct narratives of globalization impacts and responses to rural regions. Quantitative data compiled from existing datasets will be analysed through GIS to map and interrogate global flows, networks and structures crossing rural space (e.g. agri-food commodity chains, corporate networks, labour and amenity migration flows), both at global scale and in more detail for selected case studies. These data will additionally be combined with both qualitative and quantitative data collected through field research in WPs 1, 3, 4 and 5, to construct multi-media ‘narratives’ using text, maps, photographs, film, audio files and geovisualisations to tell ‘stories’ that illustrate particular aspects of globalization and community impacts and responses. These will be presented on a high-quality website (to be launched in 2015) aimed at promoting public understanding of globalization in a rural context and at providing resources for policy-makers, practitioners, NGOs and community groups.
Work Package 3, A Countertopography of Everyday Globalization, will explore the practices and experiences of everyday globalization in a rural small town through an in-depth study of Newtown in mid Wales. The research will examine the routine global engagement of the town and its residents through business investment and trade, travel, migration, consumption, culture and social networking. WP3 will chart the dynamics and articulations of everyday globalization in Newtown over the past five decades, examine their impact on the configuration of social relations within the community, and on perceptions of place and local identity, and explore the material and imagined connections between Newtown and the wider world. A parallel historical study of Newtown’s global networks between 1860 and 1960 is being undertaken by a linked PhD student. You can follow progress of the Newtown research on a dedicated blog, Assembling Newtown.
Work Package 4, Differential Global Engagements in Emerging Rural Economies, will apply the assemblage methodology developed in WP1 to analysis of the differentiated global engagement of rural communities in emerging economies in Africa, Asia and South America. It will address questions about how trajectories of rural development are influenced by global processes and networks; the significance of national policies and institutions and regional contexts in mediating the global engagement of rural communities in the global south; how global agri-food, conservation and tourism assemblages enrol rural localities in transnational networks, and how these are articulated as topographical relations of power and inequality; and the capacities of local actors to intervene in globalization processes in the rural global south and to mobilize alternative assemblages for global engagement. The work package will involve case study research in Brazil and China in liaison with local partners. A linked PhD student will undertake a parallel ethnographic study in Tanzania.
Work Package 5, Rural Assemblages and Grounding Global Challenges, will examine the contested implementation in rural localities of schemes to address ‘global challenges’ such as climate change, food security, energy stability and water supply, including renewable energy projects, mining and gas extraction, new reservoirs, biofuel cultivation and agricultural developments such as GM crops and ‘super-diaries’. The siting of such projects commonly involves functional representations of rural space that fail to acknowledge embedded local discourses of rurality, thus generating conflicts. The research will draw on assemblage theory to analyse such conflicts as struggles between global and place-based assemblages, with case study research in Wales (focused on conflicts around windfarms, biomass and hydro-electric projects, GM crops and super-dairies), Australia (focused on struggles over shale gas extraction and water resources), Brazil (focused on land conversion for biofuel cultivation), and Spain or Portugal (focused on wind and solar power, water supply and irrigation, and industrial glasshouse agriculture).
You can hear project leader Michael Woods talking about the GLOBAL-RURAL research on the WISERD website.
GLOBAL-RURAL is based in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University, and is affiliated to the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD).