Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

FP6

CORASON Sintesi della relazione

Project ID: 506049
Finanziato nell'ambito di: FP6-CITIZENS
Paese: Ireland

Final Report Summary - CORASON (A Cognitive approach to rural sustainable development the dynamics of expert and lay knowledges)

The CORASON project studied knowledge and knowledge use in European rural sustainable development. Its objective was to identify and explain the dynamics of the variety of knowledge forms (expert and lay, ranging from the scientific, economic, administrative, and managerial to local, practical, and ecological knowledge, traditional repertoires, trial and error or experientially-based discoveries) used in rural projects in relation to rural economic development, rural civil society and the protection of rural nature.

From an ecological point of view, rural areas are key areas for the transition to sustainable development. With the sustainability policy switch, rural areas have gained new economic significance in the post-industrial and post-agricultural development phase. This is visible in the manifold reactivations of the countryside as a diversifying, locally based economy encompassing new forms of agriculture (including organic and non-food production), small-scale food processing, new forms of rural tourism, new forms of managing the complex natural resources which are found in or related to rural areas. In CORASON, these reactivations, their varying social and institutional forms, and their use of different forms of knowledge, has been the subject of case-study research, through which we seek to contribute to a comparative analysis of the emergence of European knowledge society, and to the provision of a sound knowledge base for policies to manage this transition.

In summary, the central objective of CORASON was to identify and explain the dynamics of the variety of knowledge forms used in rural projects relevant to rural economic development, rural civil society, and the protection of rural nature.

Associated with this were three further objectives:
- to open up the concept of 'sustainability' to examination in the context of rural development and the knowledges relevant to this and the impact of these on social inclusion / exclusion and inequality;
- to develop an evaluation of the social, cultural and institutional sustainability of these different forms of knowledge and of the interactions between them.

Whereas most studies have taken the relatively conventional approach of reviewing and assessing sustainable development as laid out in scientific and political discourses, CORASON's approach has been to try to catch the main interpretations of it which are held by different actors in rural development - including both governmental (national, regional, European Union (EU) administrations) and non-governmental (community groups, local networks, civil society associations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs)) actors - in order to understand what these might imply for the organisation of sustainable rural development. While considerable attention has been devoted to the policy process, it is not used as the dominant framework for the research; the interest is in broader and more pluralistic frameworks, including a broader knowledge-base than scientific and managerial knowledge alone, and a broader interpretation of 'rural development' itself as something which is not just a political-managerial process but includes a range of components: the social components of creating new sustainable livelihoods, for - and by - rural populations; the economic components of redistributing economic and other resources to enable a socially inclusive development process; and the ecological components of 'navigating' the connected development of social systems and ecosystems.

In general, it was expected that the synthetic analysis would provide answers to the following set of general questions:
- What can be found in the relevant scientific discourses (in particular in relation to nature and biodiversity conservation) about rural sustainable development?
- What discourses of rural sustainable development are used in policy programmes and documents about rural development within the different countries and regions?
- How do different rural actors use the concept of rural development or of rural sustainable development, and for what purposes?
- What knowledge production processes can be identified in all three above (who produces the knowledge which is regarded as having 'definition power' in debates around rural development?)?
- What processes of knowledge negotiation, debates or controversies, can be identified?
- What knowledge reception processes can be found - who receives knowledge form whom, who refuses to use certain kinds of knowledge, etc?
- What knowledge application processes are evident in rural development or rural sustainable development efforts - how is the application of knowledge organised, in management of rural (sustainable) development?

The project main research work was conducted through the following Work packages (WPs):
WP3 - Land use management
WP4 - Demographics and civil society
WP5 - Nature protection and biodiversity
WP6 - Local food
WP7 - Non-agricultural economy
WP8 - Innovatory economic development
WP9 - Sustainable resource management.

A regional focus was agreed on the grounds that the types of rural areas found within a country and their demographic, economic and even in some cases cultural situations generally vary widely; given the short period of time available for the research in CORASON and the limited resources available, the best way to address this variance appeared to be to limit its impact as far as possible. Thus, partners were asked to identify a specific region characterised by relative homogeneity in the rural conditions found there. This region did not have to be 'typical' of rural areas in the country as a whole, but rather to be explainable as itself a more or less distinct type of rural society and economy.

Given the short timeframe (initially two years) for the research, it was agreed that this would make use as much as possible of already existing resources. Where prior studies had been carried out, by team members or others, of particular projects or rural areas, a secondary analysis of this material should be made to inform the CORASON interpretation of them. Pre-existing quantitative data, such as census and other public statistics, would be used to elaborate the broader rural context within RRAs and LIAs. Documentary analysis (of policy documents and programmes at national and local government levels, relevant debates in the public domain, project reports, mission statements etc.) would be central to the research methodology, and this was then to be completed through new fieldwork, in particular qualitative interviews with key informants in local development projects and in the local or regional administration.

Rural areas in Europe today are being shaped by a peculiar combination of homogenising and diversifying processes. While rural areas still remain and reproduce themselves as highly diverse, in their relationships to the natural resources and environmental configurations within which they are located, nearly all of those included in our research are evidently subject to the same trend, which we have here called de-agriculturalisation. Both de-agriculturalisation and diversity raise questions about the continuing meaningfulness of the concept of 'rural' as a social identity and as a description of a recognisable, distinctive way of life.

Across Europe, strategy documents for sustainable development generally do not address rural sustainable development as a specific issue or try to specify the forms which it should take. The CORASON project has tried to identify and contribute to a distinctive rural sustainable discourse for Europe. Central to it are the concepts of local diversity, and sustainable rural livelihoods. Enhancement of local environments through conservation, planning, and improved management practices needs to be balanced by an equal emphasis on the provision and safeguarding of rural sustainable livelihoods, where 'rural' is understood as centrally involving the use and valorisation of local natural resources.

The presence, if often understated and under-valued, of a discourse of economic innovation which is distinctively rural and which has much to offer for the achievement of a European 'knowledge society' which will be both socially cohesive and environmentally sustainable. But 'sustainability' in this context cannot be determined without reference to the specific and diverse features of local natures and natural resources. It requires interaction between diverse forms of knowledge to be successful - the standardised and universalising forms of expert / scientific knowledge, political-managerial or socially mobilising and social-organisational expertises, and 'lay' understandings of local nature which are oriented to its use and maintenance within a specific socio-economic environmental complex.

Achieving the interaction of different forms of knowledge on relatively equal terms remains a key problem. Quite few of these envisage giving real control over local resources to local livelihood actors, rural communities or local stakeholders. Current understandings of 'public participation' and 'consultation' as held by national or regional governments and by other powerful actors in the development process largely treat this as a matter of giving the public access to relevant 'information' and / or listening to their 'opinions' once a given course of action has been decided; they rarely encourage a more fundamental 'ownership' of the project by those most directly affected. CORASON research indicates that there is an urgent need to introduce 'governance', rather than 'government' or the use of traditional managerial practices, into rural sustainable development projects and to do this, as routine, at the formulation as well as the implementation stages. Education and learning for sustainable development need to be understood as processes involving not just the transformation of 'lay' knowledges and attitudes but also that of the relevant experts involved, so that the different and even contradictory values and purposes underlying each can be made the subject of open dialogue and debate.

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Hilary TOVEY
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