CFP: RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018 – Global Challenges and Assemblages

Global Challenges and Assemblages

Session conveners:

Anthonia Ijeoma Onyeahialam, Francesca Fois, Michael Woods (Aberystwyth University, UK)

 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018, Cardiff University, Wales. Tuesday 28 to Friday 31 August.

Global challenges are understood as major issues that our planet is facing that confront the global community (Sandler 1997). They converge around issues of food security, water supply and management, energy resources, climate change, population growth, increasing migration, crime and diseases. These issues transcend national borders, creating networks, connection and engagements at multiple scales. As being global in scope, these challenges require a coordination of global responses, a multi-disciplinary approach and an alignment of policy makers, scientific community and private sectors to work on shared priorities and collective actions (Woods 2013). The recent years have seen a rise of discourses from a range of government bodies, think tanks, NGOs and research institutions attempting to address these challenges, however they tend to be pitched at the abstract level and are rarely grounded in the specific localities or not often transcending boundaries in their application.

We are interested in analysing global challenges using an assemblage approach to uncover their diverse entanglements at different scales.

  • Firstly, we are interested in contributions that look at global challenges as assemblages. By acknowledging their complex dynamics, we question how global challenges emerge, re-emerge and their continuous process of becoming. In understanding their multiple networks, one way could be to look at how global challenges relate to each other and how they trigger each other. For instance, how are issues of water supply related to climate change? Or how are issues of food security linked to water or energy?
  • Secondly, the emphasis could be on how places emerge as local assemblages to address global challenges. How do such local assemblages combine material and immaterial elements to respond to issues of food security for example? How are they coded and decoded? Which are the actors locally and non-locally engaged in addressing such global issues?
  • Thirdly, another possible focus is on local and/or translocal conflicts arising from institutional responses to address global challenges or from development programs that do not address these issues. Which sort of social movement emerges to protest in favour of these issues? How do they mobilise (i.e. globally, locally and/or online)? Which types of alternative strategies are proposed by such assemblages to address key global challenges?

We are open to contributions that explore one or more of these approaches or any other way that employ the different influences of assemblage as an influential lens in understanding global challenges and their entanglements. In so doing, we encourage contributions that look at climate change, food security, energy stability, water management and/or disease in the global north and south. We are keen on engaging with research that relies on primary and secondary data sources, that has employed mixed methods, qualitative methods, quantitative approaches, and innovative uses of assemblage.

Deadline:: Tuesday 6th February 2018

Abstract should be approximately 250 words and include title, author’s name(s), affiliation(s), email(s), indicating the main presenter and submitted to the following:

Francesca Fois (;

Anthonia Ijeoma Onyeahialam (

Michael Woods (

Notes from Shaping methods, shaping voices and the engagement of discourses in an age of uneven rural change – XXVIIth ESRS Congress organised session

It has been a busy summer, and I thought I should get in this summary from our just concluded XXVIIth ESRS conference before the new academic year and our Newtown Exhibition (Venue – Market Hall, Newtown, Powys County 19th to 28th September 2017, 10 to 4pm) starts next week.

It was a very fruitful deliberation on new and innovative methods for rural research in our ESRS organised session titled – Shaping methods, shaping voices and the engagement of discourses in an age of uneven rural change.

Dirk and Gary  call for rural research to expand the frontiers of multi methods that cater to rural challenges comes at no better time when more studies are sharing stories of their application. Dirk and Gary paper is based on a review of methods used in rural research from two journals (Sociologia Ruralis and Journal of Rural Studies). In their review, talk about the significant use of qualitative methods above quantitative methods and very limited use of mixed methods despite the advantage mixed and interdisciplinary methods have in handling the challenges – from remoteness of rural places, to ethics, and topic types specific to rural research.

Presentations across this session have not only used mixed methods, but brought to light the adaptive ways researchers are embracing methods within and across disciplines to respond to the peculiarity of doing research, making policies and communicating outcomes in rural settings. Researchers have refined existing methods, developed new ones, mixed methods in innovative ways while keying into community knowledge and voices through co design, co-development, co-production of projects and co-responses to rural issues.

Katrin Prager critically reflects on the pros and cons of using visual methods (minicam, video camera, audio recording and touchtable map with embedded photos) to co-produce knowledge amongst stakeholders that could be translated into action to foster better management of marginal lands in western Scotland. The visual technologies yielded a number of outputs – video clips, films and an ecological survey that were useful in workshops and stakeholder engagements and helped build new relationships and trust between stakeholders. Katrin’s presentation also highlighted some of the challenges and tensions of the methods, from the lengthy negotiation processes to power plays, limited technical skills of the stakeholders, poor weather conditions and the resource investments using this methods vis a vis outputs. More on Katrin’s presentation here.

Amy Proctor crosses boundaries to borrow methods from other sectors in a co designed project helping to evaluate complex rural policies and build capacities amongst stake holders in UK. Amy reflects on this extension and translation of evaluation methods through three case studies co designed and co-developed by stakeholders (researchers, evaluation practitioners and the policy stakeholders). Part of the methodological process is a reflection by all stakeholders on the suitability and refining of the process to ways that will be suitable for rural communities. Amy suggests this approach as a useful way to think through UK rural policies in the light of its exit from EU.

Mike and Anthonia, Jane  and Meirav apply GIS, a method dating back to the 1960s in contemporary  ways.

Mike and Anthonia talked about how the Global-Rural project is using storymaps – a map based story-telling platform to narrate stories about rural communities, and their responses to globalisation issues. They share some examples of these stories from their collection of storymaps showing how individual and community voices are brought together on an interactive platform using intentionally made maps, narrative text and multimedia.  The Global-Rural storymap platform will be officially launched in January 2018. More on their ESRS presentation here.

Meirav uses 3D GIS model to represent social inequality. By allowing the theory of social topography speak to GIS methods, Meirav creates a 3D digital sand table to spatially visualise dimensions of inequality defined in terms of education, wages and unemployment using an applied case study in Israel. Jane Farmer’s work brings together different forms of data collection – interviews and photographs within a spatial framework by allowing social enterprise participants track themselves using a GPS tracker and then exploring their relationships and engagements with the places of wellbeing experienced by them in their everyday lives.

Sarah Morton assesses the outcome of co-produced response to rural health issues in the case of Tick and Lyme disease. Sarah highlights the importance of not only engaging rural communities in the co-design and development of solutions to rural health issues but also permitting spaces to allow the creation of this knowledge evolve with the specifics of the rural community. In this case study situated in Highlands, Scotland, Sarah talks about how mixed methods was utlised to gauge community knowledge of the disease using questionnaires, followed by a series of consultations to draw expert knowledge from community members using interactive persona activity, community design activity and participatory mapping designed specifically for the project. This was followed by co-developing awareness raising materials – a website, treasure hunt style game and pocket wallet tick check cards that when tested out offered multiple benefits which was only achieved through co-working with the community. More on Sarah’s presentation and paper.

Rural access remains a problem as noted in Dirk and Gary’s review paper calling for the increasing use of mixed methods that respond to the difficulties in rural areas. Mario Fernández-Zarza explores how the use of a combination of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) advances through mobile phones and internet have improved access and coverage in rural areas and allowed his research to untangle the messiness in the chain of food production by providing a right of way through which rural respondents can be reached for telephone interviews.

Pia Heike Johansen uses an iterative methodological process to explore and bring in multiple knowledge and perspectives on the territorialisation of farm shops and sales in European countryside. By conducting a first stage of field work on farm shops using a family (man, woman and two children) to carry out interviews and direct observations, followed by an auto-photo ethnography with same family and the project’s principal investigator, the knowledge generated from these initials steps fed into another stage of data collection by two different researchers. These processes allowed the farm owners to reflect on this knowledge and bring together multiple perspectives.

The mixing of methods and perspectives are not without difficulties, from power plays to practical issues, resource demand and epistemological barriers some of which Katrin’s paper highlighted. Marc in addition shares the methodological challenges of using multiple methods in a French Ministry of Agriculture National Agroecological Plan project with diverse actors and interests (political and social) and how the bringing together of these methods have had ethical and epistemological conflicts. More on the presentation here.

here Recognising the specificity of rural areas and their ethical challenges Dirk and Gary in their review call for a refinement of methods specific to addressing rural challenges. Similarly, Katharine Howell thought provoking presentation prompts us to review old models of doing international fieldwork in rural settings of developing countries. She shares her experience of doing ethnographic research on rural development and the ProSAVANA project in rural northern Mozambique and how the dynamics of power, place and politics with the misalignment of research ethics became problematic for her as a researcher, her host and host community. Katharine traces this problem to a still practised “old model” of doing international fieldwork research that reinforces colonialism and suggests the need to view ethics and positionality as being in a state of constant motion shaped by everyday fieldwork encounters. She proposes drawing on auto ethnographic approach that offers reflexivity, greater participations of all parties including the research institutions and more critical examination of these intersections to minimise the negative consequences that may ensue. You can read more about her paper here.

In Dirk and Gary review paper, they propose a space – call for chapters, in form of an edited book with a working title of “researching the rural” that will bring together intellectual knowledge and experiences doing rural research, from practical advice, to challenges and ontological perspectives to researching the rural. You can access the paper here.

Here is the complete list of all Abstracts from the “Shaping methods, shaping voices and the engagement of discourses in an age of uneven rural change” session of the XXVIIth ESRS conference, Jagiellonian University, Poland themed ‘Uneven processes of rural change: on diversity, knowledge and justice’.

I look forward to meeting you again in the next ESRS congress come 2019 at Trondheim, Norway, 25-28 July.


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


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.

Food security, food safety and globalization: Asian perspectives

Posted by Michael Woods, 16th October 2014

The clamour by many bioscientists and some politicians to increase agricultural producivity through biotechnology as a response to the challenge of ‘global food security’ is often justified by reference to the need to feed the expanding populations of China and India. Yet, in Asia, discussion among food activists seems commonly to focus more on questions about food safety and food supply chains, with evident scepticism about the promise of biotechnology and distrust of transnational corporations. As McDonalds recently announced its first operating loss in Japan in 11 years trading in the country after being caught up in a food contamination scare in its Chinese supply chain, it is clear that agri-food globalization in Asia involves dynamics and challenges that are not neccessarily the same as those experienced in the west, and that we need to listen more closely to perspectives from Asia.

This was one of the aims of a conference this week in Hong Kong on ‘Food and Sustainability: Production, Consumption and Food Relations in Asia’, organized by Chan Yuk Wah of the City University of Hong Kong and colleagues. The conference included papers from researchers in Hong Kong, China, India, Japan, Taiwan and Cambodia, and a number of thematic papers by invited international speakers, including myself, to provide a broader global context. In my own presentation, I reiterated the core principle of GLOBAL-RURAL that globalization is reproduced through local places as starting point for critiquing notions of global food governance. Although agri-food globalization has been associated by some commentators with a new neoliberal ‘food regime’ based on international and privatized systems of governance and regulation, I argued that the notion the discourse of global food governance is undermined by two fundamental instabilities in transnational agri-food assemblages.

Firstly, as food production and consumption are grounded in particular places, attempts to develop new ‘solutions’ to food problems at a global scale can flounder on the dissent and opposition of local actors – as seen, for example, in the resistance of Indian farmers to GM crops – as well as on the unreliability of nation states whose adherence to neoliberal ideals mat be compromised by geopolitical or domestic security concerns, as exhibited in the decision by several countries to restrict exports of rice or grain during the 2008 food crisis. Secondly, global food governance is also disrupted by the unruly behaviour of non-human components in food assemblages, especially the unintended incorporation of contaminants or pathogens that subvert the careful coding of commercial food products by making them unsafe, as in the McDonalds example mentioned above. These two uncertainties, I suggested, are a key part of the story of agri-food globalization in Asia.

Interestingly, these points resonated with the contributions of the other thematic papers. Hugh Campbell’s excellent plenary lecture highlighted the failure of attempts to broker multilateral international trade agreements involving food and agriculture, with the latest WTO effort finally being scuppered by India’s insistence on maintaining food stockpiles, and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership likely to collapse under Japanese and American reluctance to reform farm subsidies. More likely, he argued, are bilateral agreements along the lines of the China-New Zealand trade deal, which he suggested is in effect a food supply arrangement for China. Such agreements would not however provide the global food system with resilience, and Hugh argued instead for an alternative approached based on the accommodation of polycultural food systems, as well as principles of democratisation and ecology.

The potential for alternative approaches was also demonstrated in papers by Steffanie Scott on alternative food movements in China, including community supported agriculture, which has developed with tacit state sponsorship in the absence of a vibrant civil society and responds to middle class concerns over food safety; and by activist Lee Aruelo from the Third World Network, who described how local governments in the Philippines have successfully created ‘GM-free zones’ by introducing ordinances supporting organic agriculture and the banning GM as incompatible with the legal protection afforded organic farming. Bill Pritchard’s paper meanwhile further illustrated the complex grounding of agri-food globalization with discussion of food insecurity in India and the limitations of ‘trickle-down’ effects from value chain modernization in a model of compressed development.

The more-than-human and expressive components of global agri-food assemblages. meanwhile, were implicitly picked up in Michael Carolan’s fascinating paper exploring the “visceral momentum of (food) regimes”, which noted, among other arguments, that globalized regimes have molded our expectations of taste and texture to an extent that hinders the efforts of alternative food movements to convince consumers and regulators that traditional and artisan foods with strong and unusual tastes and textures are safe and acceptable, and that even the presence of bacteria might in some cases be appropriate, contrary to the “scorched-Earth” approach to food safety of the USDA.

Recognizing and welcoming diversity of taste, texture, shape, colour, smell and so on in the messy complexity of food is essential if the global food regime is to be weaned off its tendency towards standardization and nudged towards polycultural food systems as proposed in Hugh’s talk.