Rural Geography: Processes, Responses and Experiences in Rural Restructuring

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Michael Woods

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    Foreword

    Although the history of Geography is replete with references to and emphases on regions, land and communities which might be considered as ‘rural’, the emergence of Rural Geography as a specific line of geographical enquiry spans only the past 30 years or so and might only be thought to have ‘taken off’ during the 1980s. In this relatively short period of time there has been a significant assembling and considering of material relating to the changing nature of rurality and rural areas, and there have also been noticeable attempts to bring wider theoretical frameworks and insights into the rural domain. Such attempts, sometimes confident, sometime faltering, have facilitated emphases on space, society, politics, economics, culture and nature (and hybrids of these) in our understanding of the rural, and rather than representing a series of episodic paradigm shifts they have deposited a rather palimpsestual landscape of theoretical enquiry.

    Many of us would now argue that it is a good time to take stock of these approaches and their achievements. What have we learned about rurality as an object of desire, a focus of processes, a social construction, and how capable are we of understanding the different ways in which rurality is restructured and recomposed? To what extent has rural geography been content to establish itself and its concerns as a legitimate category of enquiry, and to what degree have rural geographers been persuasive in attributing significance to rural phenomena? Has rural geography been duped by the romantic and nostalgic appeal of idyllistic rurality, or has it been successful in lifting the cultural covers of idyll in order to expose the more problematic underbelly of social marginalization, poverty and homelessness in rural settings?

    Mike Woods's book is an excellent and timely contribution to these necessary processes of stocktaking. He presents a clear, lively, informative and engaging account of rural restructuring, in terms of both the processes and practices that underpin rural change, and of multifaceted political-economic and social-cultural responses to that rural change. Mike is himself a leading rural scholar who has been engaged in agenda-setting research into rural politics and governance, so he is excellently placed to offer a summary of the state of the art of rural geography.

    But more than that, he directs important attention to issues that are likely to make rural areas into even more significantly contested areas in the future. Traditional practices of food production will be cross-cut by political and ethical issues around food, health and landscape. The rural idyll has already been punctured by the dystopic imagery of death, destruction and emptiness following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Now urban-based consumers are insisting on having a greater say about the nature of food, farming, landscape and even about the ethics of traditional rural practices such as hunting. Seemingly urban-based government is insisting on having its say about both the look of the countryside and its place as a repository for housing and economic growth. Brussels-based policy-making continues to CAP the headless politic of the rural economy. By contrast, rural identity politics are making an increasingly noisy and visible contribution, infusing these debates with the supposedly united views of country people.

    There seems little doubt that ‘rural’ and ‘countryside’ will continue as distinct discursive areas in everyday life, yet it is equally clear that there are many different countrysides and many different geographies of the rural. Mike Woods's book provides a scholarly framework from which to launch out into your own understandings of how rurality is being reconstructed. His challenge is that such understandings should be politically aware and relevant, yet sensitive and open to difference. I hope that you will accept that challenge critically and radically, for in your response, and in those like yours, lies the health and impact of future rural geographies.

    PaulCloke

    University of Bristol

    Acknowledgements

    The production of a textbook such as this is a process of detection, exploration, examination, selection, collation, synthesis, editing and re-presentation. It by necessity draws on the work and ideas of a vast array of geographers, sociologists and other rural researchers, as credited in the text. In addition to the published papers and books that are referenced in the bibliography, I have been guided, informed and inspired by a great many conference papers, seminar presentations, discussions and informal conversations that have given me new insights, suggested fresh ways of approaching topics, led me to different readings, theories and case studies, and taught me about rural studies outside of the UK. I am grateful to my friends and colleagues in the rural studies community for these inadvertent contributions, which are not easy to cite formally.

    I have also drawn inspiration, and gained insights, from my colleagues and students in the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, the lively, dynamic and convivial atmosphere of which both facilitated and, occasionally, distracted from the writing of this book. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the support of those colleagues and research students with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating on rural research: Bill Edwards, Mark Goodwin, Jon Anderson, Graham Gardner, Rachel Hughes, Simon Pemberton, Catherine Walkley, Eldin Fahmy, Owain Hammonds and Suzie Watkin.

    I am grateful, too, to Robert Rojek and David Mainwaring at Sage for their careful stewardship of this project, as well as to the reviewers of earlier drafts of the manuscript for their generous comments and suggestions.

    Much of the artwork in the book has been produced by Ian Gulley in the Institute's drawing office at Aberystwyth, with his characteristic skill and attention to detail.

    The author and publishers wish to thank the following for permission to reproduce material:

    • Figure 1.2, reproduced from P. Cloke (1977) ‘An index of rurality for England and Wales’, Regional Studies, 11, figure 2, p. 44, and P. Cloke and G. Edwards (1986) ‘Rurality in England and Wales 1981: a replication of the 1971 index’, Regional Studies, 20, figure 2, p. 293, by kind permission of Taylor and Francis Ltd. (http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals)
    • Figure 7.1, reproduced from R. Liepins (2000) ‘New energies for old ideas’, Journal of Rural Studies, 16, pp. 25–35, figure 1, with permission from Elsevier. Copyright 2000.
    • Figure 8.3, reproduced from Tranquil Area maps published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, by kind permission of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Copyright, Campaign to Protect Rural England and Countryside Agency, October 1995.
    • Figure 11.1, reproduced from B. Edwards, M. Goodwin, S. Pemberton and M. Woods (2000) Partnership Working in Rural Regeneration, figure 1, p. 7, by kind permission of the Policy Press.

    Every effort has been made to trace all the copyright holders, but if any have been overlooked, or if any additional information can be given, the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary amendments at the first opportunity.

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