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Enlarging the theoretical understanding of rural development (2007 – 2009)

The EU, many Member States as well as Regional Authorities are increasingly transforming their rural development policies from an initial focus on farm structures to a broader framework that includes food chain aspects, forestry, environmental issues, diversification of the rural economy and the quality of life in rural areas. Simultaneously, patterns of governance have started to change: integrated actions, new public-private partnerships and area-based and bottom-up approaches constitute important ingredients of new local development strategies (although not everywhere with the same consistency). Together with a myriad of grass root initiatives new policies and governance structures are reshaping the social and economic fabric of many rural economies. At the same time it is becoming clear that rural development processes are moving beyond the institutionalized blocks of knowledge that were once designed to represent and understand the rural economy as it was shaped during the epoch of the big modernization project of European agriculture. Sectoral approaches are no longer adequate to understand the manifold and multilevel interactions between farming activities and the wider rural context.

ETUDE aims to develop an integrated conceptual framework that goes beyond mono-disciplinary and sectoral approaches and integrates several currently emerging theoretical strands. This with the objective to: acquire a better understanding of the dynamics, scope and regional economic impact of rural development processes, whilst reflecting the large heterogeneity of rural areas and activities, assess the differential impact of newly emerging rural constellations in terms of land management, the competitiveness of rural economies and the quality of life in rural areas and explore the interfaces between different rural development trajectories and governance structures and rural policies. For each objective, recommendations will be developed that are applicable in the domains of theory, practice and policy.

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Jan Douwe van der Ploeg
Formerly Professor and Chair of Rural Sociology and Emeritus professor of Transition Studies at Wageningen University (WUR), the Netherlands and Adjunct Professor of Rural Sociology at the College of Humanities and Development Studies (COHD) of China Agricultural University (CAU) in Beijing, China.

e-mail: clic here