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Imagining the Rural in a Globalizing World

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - RURALIMAGINATIONS (Imagining the Rural in a Globalizing World)

Reporting period: 2021-09-01 to 2023-02-28

RURALIMAGINATIONS focuses on the crucial role played by novels, films and television series in determining what aspects of the contemporary globalized rural are and are not visible, and on how this affects political mobilizations of the rural. This is relevant in the context of the 2016 Brexit referendum; the American presidential elections of 2016 and 2020; the farmers' protests in the Netherlands, which began in 2019 in response to measures to cut nitrogen emissions; ongoing discussions about land reform in post-Apartheid South Africa; and the Chinese State's promotion of rapid urbanization.
Our three central research questions are:
1) To what extent do cultural imaginations render globalization’s effects on the rural (in)visible?
2) What role do traditional rural genres like the idyll and the feelings and desires they attach to the rural play in this making (in)visible?
3) How can new aesthetic repertoires highlighting the rural as a dynamic site of globalization and addressing growing rural-urban divides be developed?
The project proposes that the detailed analysis of the form and content of prominent cultural imaginations of the rural is a vital addition to looking at what is actually happening in rural areas because such imaginations influence how people, both inside and outside the rural, make sense of it and its relation to globalization. The project is unique in comparing five national contexts across four continents – the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, China and South Africa – and in examining, in the project synthesis, how certain rural imaginations have themselves achieved global reach.
Major research achievements:
1) The research team was recruited, consolidated and expanded. The PI (Esther Peeren) recruited two postdocs (Emily Ng, China subproject; Hanneke Stuit, South Africa subproject), three PhDs (Anke Bosma, Netherlands subproject; Lelia Tavakoli Farsooni, UK subproject; Tjalling Valdés Olmos, US subproject), four research assistants (Zaza de Ridder, 2019-2020; Calvin Duggan, 2020-2021; Ayumi Fillipone, 2020-2021; Erick Fowler, 2022-2023). Two self-funded PhDs (Shao SHAO and Chen ZHOU, both working on rural imaginations in China) are affiliated with the project.
2) With regard to the research questions, we established that in all five national contexts many prominent cultural imaginations still present the rural through idyllic/pastoral genres. At the same time, some prominent cultural imaginations thematize these genres' inadequacy to rural reality, as well as the detrimental effects of people’s lingering affective attachment to them. In critiquing these effects, some cultural imaginations of the rural suggest reconfigurations of the idyll/pastoral, notably in decolonial and posthuman veins.
3) We expanded the theoretical framework by engaging with post- and decolonial theories (to grasp how many cultural imaginations of the rural ignore the afterlives of coloniality haunting the rural) and by exploring how the rural is being reimagined through posthuman frameworks.
4) One of the project's main objectives is to expand the field of rural studies to the humanities and to set up durable collaborations between social scientists and humanities scholars. Important steps have been taken towards this aim. The research team includes researchers with humanities and social science backgrounds, and so have all the project events. That our interdisciplinary approach has gained recognition is evidenced by the fact that two articles co-authored by Peeren were published in the Journal of Rural Studies, a top journal that predominantly features social, economic and natural scientists.
5) We have actively involved artists and cultural producers in the project. Two examples: 1) In June 2019, Peeren, Stuit, Ng and Tavakoli Farsooni attended the Rural Assembly at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, which coincided with an exhibition of the artist collective MyVillages. Wapke Feenstra, a member of MyVillages, gave a presentation at the RURALIMAGINATIONS project launch in June 2019, involved us in a public event at TENT Arts Center in Rotterdam related to her exposition Boerenzij (Farmers’ Side) in December 2019, and presented a video work at the Project Conference in August 2022; 2) The international expert meeting in Aberystwyth (November 2019) featured a panel discussion between two novelists and a location manager involved in the BBC series Hinterland.
6) The project has attracted attention from rural stakeholders. At the December 2020 online workshop on “The Self-Image and Public Image of Dutch Farmers and the Politics of the Rural,” Esther Peeren and Peter van Dam, a historian of sustainability, presented an article-in-progress “Scales of Sustainability: Redefining the Position of Productivist Farmers in Debates about the Environment,” conceived after Peeren and Van Dam were invited by Amsterdam Green Campus – a non-profit foundation at the University of Amsterdam that connects government, business and higher education – to consult on a study of agrarians commissioned by the municipality of Hollands Kroon. In November 2020, a virtual roundtable was organized by AGC to discuss the article with scholars from the social and natural sciences. It will be published in the edited volume coming out of the Project Conference.
7) The project’s findings have been published in academic journals and presented in academic institutions, through keynotes, invited lectures and conference presentations. Results were also disseminated through public events. To give some examples: Valdés Olmos contributed to a discussion about the documentary Americaville organized by Pakhuis de Zwijger Amsterdam; Bosma participated in a podcast about cinematic depictions of European countrysides for Pod Academy, and Peeren was cited in an article on cottagecore in the Dutch national newspaper Trouw.
8) We launched a project website: http://www.ruralimaginations.com.
As reported to the ERC, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a major challenge, causing some delays and making it impossible to hold all the planned expert workshops abroad. However, in formulating provisional answers to our research questions, expanding the theoretical framework, bringing social science and humanities scholars on the rural into dialogue, involving artists and cultural producers, attracting the attention of rural stakeholders, and disseminating our findings in academic and non-academic contexts, we have already progressed beyond the state of the art. Major results still expected include: the edited volume Planetary Hinterlands: Extraction, Abandonment, Care (ed. Pamila Gupta, Sarah Nuttall, Esther Peeren and Hanneke Stuit), which will be launched at an event at WISER in Johannesburg in August 2023; the edited volume Rural Imaginations for a Globalizing World, which brings together contributions to the Project Conference; the PI's synthesizing monograph; and the PhD dissertations of Valdés Olmos, Bosma and Tavakoli Farsooni. In these publications and dissertations, we shed further light on why idyllic/pastoral imaginations of the rural remain so appealing, especially at times of crisis and even when their inadequacy to rural realities is obvious, as well as on how other imaginations of the rural might be created capable of accounting for the rural's involvement in globalization processes that perpetuate colonial, capitalist and environmental violence.
Cover Program Project Launch Meeting Amsterdam June 2019
Cover Program International Expert Meeting Aberystwyth November 2019