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.

 

Global Remittances Patterns, Rural Access and Diasporic Networks

We have just celebrated The International Day of Family Remittances (IDFR), a day that recognises the significance of the financial contribution migrant workers make in supporting the wellbeing of their relatives back home as well as the sustaining developmental projects in their home countries.

Over the last 45 years, global remittances flow has soared by over 30,000% with 2016 recording about 580 billion USD in flows. Remittances have supported individual families in improving their quality of life, from accessing better health care, to education, accommodation to starting up and expanding businesses. It was only in the last 10 years that remittances from migrant workers became increasing recognised, and today account for over 3 times of developmental aid sent to developing countries.

Remittances Flow 1970 To 2015

Remittances Flow 1970 To 2015

 

Migration and remittances

Remittances have been on the increase because of the increasing scale of migration across borders – those forced to flee their homelands to those seeking better economic opportunities. Today we have 250 million migrants crossing national borders, a 60% increase since 1990. A phenomenon labelled as “The human face of globalisation”. Despite the slow in remittances flow since 2014, the role it plays in supporting developing countries cannot be underestimated, as top origins of remittances coincide with top migrant destinations like United States and Saudi Arabia ranking top two and have remained on the increase since 2010.

Top 10 Origins of Remittances 2010 to 2015

Top 10 Origins of Remittance 2010 to 2015

 

Top destination countries by continent are Asia (India and China); Europe (France; Germany); Africa (Nigeria, Egypt); Latin America and Caribbean (Mexico, United States). Remittances flow is clearly a North to South thing, and US, Saudi and UAE have the busiest corridors.

Top Ten Origins of Global Remittances and Their Top Twenty Destinations for 2015

Top Ten Origins of Global Remittances and Their Top Twenty Destinations for 2015

 

It is estimated that migrant workers send home approximately $200 to $300 several times a year and of the 750 million worldwide receiving this, 50% are rural residents. A survey by African Development Bank and the World Bank of African diaspora in Belgium from the Dem. Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Senegal and their household members in their corresponding countries were interviewed, showed they sent between $800 to $1600 equivalent as often as about 8 times per year to over 50% of their households living in rural areas. Apart from supporting everyday expenditures like feeding, education, rent, these households make significant investments in land, businesses, housing, agriculture. In particular, over 57% of remittances coming into Nigeria are dedicated to investments.  United States and UK to Nigeria are one of the busiest remittances corridor with over $9.4 billion remitted through formal means in 2015 only.

Remittances from OECD countries are sent mainly through formal means like Western Union and banks compared to remittances originating from African countries where friends and relative or self-delivery are the main medium of delivery. Despite the significance of these funds to rural residents, there is an obvious financial exclusion to formal financial services in rural areas. Social and geographical barriers remain a problem, as banks who take up this particular service in developing countries prefer to establish branches in developed areas leaving rural dwellers to incur additional expenses in transportation and time to commute long distances and send or access funds. In rural Kenya geographic distance to bank could be up to 4 km or further for banks rendering money transfer services. Banks also require documentation, which can be a barrier for less literate rural dwellers. Sending costs within African countries are also high and in some instances, receivers incur further costs.

How Republic of Benin is Responding to Financial Exclusion and Access to Remittances  

Republic of Benin is improving access to remittances in rural communities by equipping post offices to offer basic financial services of sending and receiving remittances without the opening of account. This provision of this service has not only ensured further access to funds to support families and development project but has created jobs to rural indigenes.

 

Republic of Benin Response to Accessing Remittances in Rural Locations (Source: capacity4devuservids)

Diasporic networks, remittances and rural areas – A Case of Nigeria

Diasporic networks are becoming a medium through which rural communities and migrants are responding to the “human face of globalization” – the need to leave home for better economic opportunities but also bring back development and aid that would not have resulted. Beyond of remittances to individual families, there is also community remittances sent by individuals; formal and informal diasporic networks in migrant destination countries back to their communities of origin. It supports developmental projects in home communities from building infrastructure, hospitals, road, power generation, water, education, providing scholarships, specialist health care provision, promoting culture to tourism.  Nigeria is one of the top sending migrant country in Africa and top remittance receiving country globally, with United States and United Kingdom as key destination of its migrants and key origins of remittances.

Across UK and US, Nigerians in diaspora have set up three formal diasporic networks with the mandate of fostering development and growth in Nigeria as well as support Nigerians in these destinations. They are MANSANG – Medical Association of Nigerians Across Great Britain, Mbano National Assembly and Arondizuogu Patriotic Union. They have over time supported education, infrastructural development, cultural exchange and tourism and specialist health care via medical missions through remittances and skills targeted at rural communities. They bring to rural areas in Nigeria locally unavailable specialist skills. The role of such networks in fostering development through their remittance is less looked upon than family remittances yet it is a way rural areas are responding to the out migration of their workforce and migrants maintaining connections with their rural communities in their home country.  While they support these rural communities, remitting funds to these locations to support developmental work is also an issue.

How much we can respond to financial exclusion of rural areas,  recognize and harness  migrants, diasporic networks and connections is important in curbing the negative impacts of globalisation on rural communities.

 

 

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.