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Rural development vs. conceptually induced harm

Conference contribution
Authors Jadwiga Biegańska
Mirek Dymitrow
Elżbieta Grzelak-Kostulska
Stefania Środa-Murawska
Daniela Szymańska
Published in 5th Nordic Conference for Rural Research: “Challenged ruralities: Nordic welfare states under pressure”, 14–16 May, 2018, Vingsted, Denmark
ISBN 978-87-7903-792-2
Publisher University of Copenhagen – Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Unit for Human Geography
Mistra Urban Futures
Language en
Keywords rural development, harm, marginalization, deprivation, rurality, Nordic welfare model
Subject categories Human Geography, Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology), Practical philosophy, Health Care Service and Management, Health Policy and Services and Health Economy, Sociology of Law


Rural regions of Europe face multiple challenges. Among the weaker ones, below-average economic productivity and insufficient supply of physical and social infrastructure have opened up for new questions and efforts to protect people from harm. One notable oversight, however, is that the concept ‘rural’ can be vastly misleading, especially in the context of development. Harm is both a moral and a legal concept, which in the broadest sense denotes any form of setback to interest that is conceptually induced. What this means is that any abstract division or delimitation upheld or enforced by social factors will at the same time enable and constrain individual agency. Conceptualizations of ‘rural’ draw on imaginations on how the world is like, while the underlying frameworks of understanding depart from efforts to best manage those imaginations. Now in instances where subjectivity is high and elusiveness takes precedence over structured coherence, most imaginations catering to valid conceptualizations of ‘rurality’ will lose their socio-material reciprocity, whereupon conceptually induced harm is likely to manifest. Departing from these ideas, out paper challenges the engrained tradition of using ‘rural’ as a guiding label in societal organisation when seen through the prism of marginalization. Two similar deprivation-ridden estates – one ‘urban’ and one ‘rural’ – were investigated. Having taken account of the residents’ everyday lives in the socio-economic, material and discursive dimensions, our findings indicate that the notions of rurality and urbanity imbricate and leapfrog meaningful territories at the local level. Our findings suggest that in order to be efficient policy must take into account the role of the concept of rurality in creating marginalization, because a problem is not “rural” unless we make it “rural”. This means that such mode of cultural labelling may miss that many ubiquitous problems transcend spatial demarcations, whereupon conventional conceptualizations of rurality usually end up in failure and disappointment. This, we argue, is especially important in the context of the changed Nordic welfare model, where increased proclivity toward political correctness, openness to immigration and submission to loss of cultural specificity have also inconspicuously altered the notion of development hitherto widely understood as rural.

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