Conference of the Section "Cultural Analysis of the Rural" of the German Association of Cultural Anthropology and Folklore Studies (dgv), 8-10 October 2020, Department of Archeology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Bonn, Germany.
Organizers: Ove Sutter, Oliver Müller, Sina Wohlgemuth.
Keynote speakers: Prof. Dr. Bettina Bock (Wageningen University), Dr. Keith Halfacree (Swansea University)
Rural regions in Europe and their everyday worlds are subject to extensive socioeconomic and cultural transformations – contrasting with their representation as decelerated and traditional environments still dominant in popular imagery. Against the backdrop of increasing urbanization, deindustrialization and ecological crises, they face pressures to reinvent themselves. National and supranational institutions accompany and promote this transformation through political-economic measures. Since the 1990s, following the “New Rural Paradigm,” they have been focusing on investments instead of welfare state compensation, on the diversification of rural economies and on the exploitation of unused “endogenous resources” instead of a subsidy-driven development.
This process is characterized by forms of “participatory governance,” which seek to activate communities’ self-governing capacities and lead to a pluralization of actors involved in governing the diversified countryside. In addition to the mayor and the local council, new protagonists are introduced, such as regional managers, village caretakers and, not least, the active residents. The latter are encouraged to play an active role as responsible residents in the future development and shaping of their region. In village festival halls and community centers, residents analyze their “strengths” and “weaknesses,” define “development potentials” and formulate a vision for the future to obtain public funding. In this process, historically evolved imaginations of the village as a close-knit, cohesive and neighborly caring community interlock with contemporary forms of neoliberal governance. Voluntary village associations, historical buildings and seemingly “natural” landscapes become “endogenous resources” for future development supposed to benefit the village in overcoming its economic, ecological and demographic challenges. At the same time, in the local arenas of participatory governance, traditional political actors and village networks encounter newly settled counter-urbanizers and allocated refugees with differing and sometimes conflicting notions of the “good life” (in the countryside). Handed down forms of village association, voluntary work and political negotiation meet participatory approaches of networking and project-based participation.
Media and political discourses also have an impact on these transformations: From idyllic representations of rural family life and the countryside as “homeland” (“Heimat”) in glossy magazines and visions of urban “coworking villages” to populist narratives of a cultural and political cleavage between grounded ordinary country people, on the one hand, and disconnected cosmopolitan and urban elites, on the other.
In order to fully comprehend these current sociocultural transformations and negotiations, they have to be related to historically evolved ideas of responsibility and belonging, to practices of “taking care” and “being taken care of,” and to structures of political negotiation and local community engagement. Concomitantly, the political-economic mobilizations and sometimes conflicting formations of memory and remembrance must be closely examined as they underpin the production of distinct local identities and “community.”
The conference discusses these wide-ranging transformations with a focus on the representations, practices and materialities of everyday life worlds of rural regions and their inhabitants from a historical and contemporary perspective.
- Which historical transformations of communitary work in rural regions precede today’s formations and how are they to be approached?
- Which historical representations, practices and arenas of interaction between state and civic actors are adapted and transformed in which way in the course of these restructurings?
- How are memory and remembrance currently produced and mobilized in the production of local community and identity?
- Which new actors can be identified in participatory governance? What are their sociocultural practices? What relationships and networks with other actors emerge in which ways?
- How do everyday “arenas” of negotiating the transformation of rural regions emerge as symbolical-discursive and material spaces? What are their historical precursors?
- Which groups and actors are excluded from participatory governance in which ways? Which practices and forms of sociality are devalued?
- How are human-environment relationships addressed in the context of rural participatory governance and how do they transform?
- Regarding the demarcation between “city” and “countryside” as cultural imaginations, which (political) narratives and media representations are mobilized in which ways?
- Which new spatial configurations emerge?
We welcome contributions from European Ethnology, Cultural Studies, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, Historical Sciences, Media Studies and Human Geography addressing these transformations of everyday life in rural areas.
The bilingual (English/German) conference is the closing event of the DFG-project “Participative development of rural regions. Everyday negotiations of the European Union’s LEADER program” (LEADER-Forschungsprojekt.uni-bonn.de).
Response: March 15, 2020.
A peer-reviewed publication of the contributions in the English language is envisaged.
Compensation of travel and accommodation costs may be considered, subject to the acceptance of contributions and other factors.