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  • Author or Editor: Menelaos Gkartzios x
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Stories from the Global Countryside

Rural Places and Planning provides a compact analysis for students and early-career practitioners of the critical connections between place capitals and the broader ideas and practices of planning, seeded within rural communities. It looks across twelve international cases, examining the values that guide the pursuit of the ‘good countryside’.

The book presents rural planning – rooted in imagination and reflecting key values – as being embedded in the life of particular places, dealing with critical challenges across housing, services, economy, natural systems, climate action and community wellbeing in ways that are integrated and recognise broader place-making needs. It introduces the breadth of the discipline, presenting examples of what planning means and what it can achieve in different rural places.

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This is a book about the relationship between rural places and planning, about how planning can support the co-production of ‘better places’ (Healey, 2010) and how, in turn, rural places are able to build the capacities and the neo-endogenous agency needed to achieve sustainable development goals (Ray, 1997; Gkartzios and Scott, 2014). Despite the rapid and fundamental transformations faced by rural areas over the last century, dominant planning orthodoxies have continued to treat rural places as residual and subordinate spaces that require little intervention or investment. This is, in large part, because they are viewed through the lens of agriculture-biased and productivist rationalities that elevate farming and preservation interests above everything else that co-exists in the countryside (Lapping, 2006; Lapping and Scott, 2019). This reductive approach is coupled with dominant discourses of rurality that either present rural places as exclusive, almost pre-industrial, havens for selective elites (popularised by the discourse of the ‘rural idyll’, Figure 1.1) or as places that are ‘left behind’ technologically, culturally and economically and thus unable to compete in a globalised economy (Murdoch et al, 2003). While none of these narratives captures the complex and nuanced reality of contemporary rural places, their persistence in popular, policy and academic discourses (for example Short, 2006; Cruickshank, 2009; Peeren and Souch, 2018) reveals a failure to appreciate the unique and highly context-specific attributes of different spatial pathologies. This rural myopia also impacts planning policy and practice, which privileges urban and metropolitan contexts in research and policy.

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There was no discrete ‘built capital’ in Bourdieu’s triad of economy–society–culture. But those base capitals become objectified or embodied in material things or human capacities. Modern economies, for example, require an infrastructure of fixed and mobile objects: places of economic production, means of connectivity and transportation, and other apparatus, to enable that production. Likewise, society is rooted in a material world: places of home, of private and public dwelling, of interaction and the formation of social bonds, which host the development of meaning and shared culture. It was noted in Chapter 1 that later extensions of Bourdieu’s thinking transformed his fundamental capitals into public goods and community resources (Coleman, 1998), tying them to particular places and therefore arriving at the notion of ‘place capitals’. Taking this line of logic further, these capitals became ‘assets’ that advance or restrict the economic, social and cultural lives of different places. How places develop will depend on whether they are asset-rich or asset-poor, whether they have the means to get ahead or are more likely to be left behind. Social capital has become a key signifier of place-based development potential but is often, we would argue, invoked as a shorthand for a constellation of linked capitals, material and non-material. A combination of many things – capacities, skills, knowledge and infrastructures – produces that potential, all of which centre on people, what they do individually and collectively, and what resources they have to hand. Emery and Flora (2006) list only one item under ‘built capital’ in their own expansion of Bourdieu’s triad: infrastructure.

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Within Bourdieu’s (1986) essay on forms of capital, economic capital refers to material assets that are ‘immediately and directly convertible into money and may be institutionalised in the form of property rights’ (Bourdieu 1986, p 242). Economic capital includes all kinds of material resources such as financial resources or resources with exchange value including land and property. However, key to Bourdieu’s analysis was his observation that other forms of capital (social and cultural) can be convertible to economic capital through enabling processes, such as education or social obligations or connections. Moreover, economic capital afforded opportunities for developing or acquiring further stocks of social and cultural capital, providing a positive feedback loop, suggesting that the complex interplay of economic, social and cultural capital could be mutually reinforcing.

Understanding and exploiting this complex interplay between economic capital and other forms of capital has been hugely influential as both an explanation of the differential economic performance of rural places and also for rethinking rural development policy and practice. This implies moving beyond traditional economics to focus on the economic potential of tangible and intangible resources or assets. The variable economic performance of rural regions and localities has been the focus of much debate over the last two decades or more. As recorded by Bryden and Munro (2001), differences in economic development success between rural localities may be explained by the interplay of global and local factors. The external environment of rural regions, for example, is affected by current globalisation processes and by macro-economic conditions.

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This chapter explores how land is used and managed as a resource for rural places and for enhancing rural quality of life. We consider land as a fundamental and finite rural resource with human and non-human dimensions. While land is central to shaping the function, economic role, ecological integrity and quality of life within rural places, its management is also of critical importance in addressing global environmental priorities. These include climate change mitigation and adaptation, addressing biodiversity loss, food and energy security and sustainable water management. Extensive land-based resources are a central feature of rural places, with 86 per cent of land in OECD countries located in predominantly rural regions and a further 11 per cent in near-urban rural regions (OECD, 2020b). In relation to land, Hibbard and Frank (2019, p 339) remind us that:

Rural areas produce most of the world’s food and textile fibre. They are the source of most of its energy, minerals, water, and timber for construction and for paper pulp. They host the vast majority of the planet’s plant and animal species … Importantly, rural areas are undergoing a major transformation and are the locus of many of the most pressing planning issues, from climate change to biodiversity loss to land-use conflict to rapid market fluctuations.

Extensive land-based resources, in addition to the amenity and heritage dimensions of landscapes, are a key point of departure and substantive focus for planning in rural contexts.

Classical economics traditionally identifies land as a key capital stock, as a productive resource with value, for example for agriculture, mineral extraction or for absorbing waste (Chenoweth et al, 2018).

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The critical development in Bourdieu’s (1986) theory of capital was his conceptualisation of new and distinct forms of capital, transmutable with economic capital and associated with higher positions in social life and with social class. In essence, social and cultural capitals are rooted in economic capital, in wealth advantage, but are also convertible into economic capital – in many complex ways. As such, their presence and their form provide a means of understanding power structures across any social field. Specifically, social capital is (Bourdieu, 1986, p 21):

the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition – or in other words, to membership in a group – which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectively-owned capital, a ‘credential’ which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word.

While no single definition is given for cultural capital, Bourdieu theorises its different components as a way to explain the complex ways cultural capital is also infused into power structures (1986, p 17):

Cultural capital can exist in three forms: in the embodied state, i.e., in the form of long-lasting dispositions of the mind and body; in the objectified state, in the form of cultural goods (pictures, books, dictionaries, instruments, machines, etc.), which are the trace or realization of theories or critiques of these theories, problematics, etc.; and in the institutionalized state, a form of objectification which [for example educational qualifications] confers entirely original properties on the cultural capital which it is presumed to guarantee.

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We began this book by articulating the ambition of making future rural places better or at least thinking through the different ways in which those places might become better through actions that respect the unique characteristics and dynamics of place. Our approach to analysing current rural places and place-based interventions has been guided by Bourdieu’s theory of capitals (1986) – and especially by the proposition that social energy, transmutable from economic resources, is at once a source of development opportunity and spatial and social inequalities. More broadly, and like other researchers (for example Castle, 1998; Emery and Flora, 2006; Courtney and Moseley, 2008), we have explored the ‘placing’ and spatial interaction of a broader array of capitals as a basis for unpacking the complex realities of rural places – their materiality, symbolism and socio-economic practices. We have sought to understand how the ‘spatial energy’, rooted in capitals, can be channelled by planning and brought centre stage in the co-production of rural places with communities.

The book has been structured around four capitals that ‘make’ rural places: built, economic, land-based and socio-cultural capital. Our efforts to break these capitals into their constituent parts (a task undertaken in each thematic chapter) illustrates how each is inextricably linked to the others – the built with the economic, land with socio-cultural and so on. There can be no compartmentalising of these capitals; and yet in order to see how the smaller pieces, the assemblages, come together in the whole, it has been necessary to expose the individual parts and map the connections through case studies that hopefully reveal something of the nature of place capitals and also draw attention to the role of planning in its many guises, as a connective tissue that bonds and mobilises such capitals, framing the actions of different groups.

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