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The roots of regional rural development

Rural development processes have led, in many European regions, to the creation of new economic activities that make a significant contribution to the commercial attractiveness and overall competitiveness of these regions. Over the last two and a half years, researchers from six European countries have analysed the nature and dynamics of regional rural development. Their research programme, ETUDE (Enlarging Theoretical Understanding of Rural Development), is aiming to better conceptualise rural development. This is not merely an effort to create a comprehensive theory encompassing rural development, but more because ‘nothing is as practical as a good theory’. ETUDE has studied more than 60 rural development initiatives during the course of its work, and engaged in an in-depth analysis of 12 regions. The study covered mature as well as incipient realities, successful and failing initiatives, blossoming regions versus others that stay, as the saying goes, ‘in the mud’.

Network of encounters

The main and strategically relevant finding of the ETUDE programme is that successful rural development processes are rooted in a myriad of encounters, transactions, interactions and networks that link people, resources, activities and markets. This loosely structured constellation is referred to as a ‘rural web’. A well-developed rural web is characterised by synergy: i.e. it supports many rural development activities just as it triggers new ones. The presence of a strong rural web that extends in time and space and covers different levels makes rural development into a self sustained and, if not right away, a self strengthening process. Thus, any chronic dependence on external funding is avoided.

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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.
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