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The Countryside: spaces of innovation in an urban world

Les campagnes : espaces d’innovation dans un monde urbain

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Published on Monday, July 15, 2013 by Luigia Parlati


L'UMR CNRS 6590 ESO et la commission de géographie rurale du CNFG, en collaboration avec les commissions de géographie rurale britanniques, allemandes et espagnoles, organisent à Nantes du 02 au 06 juin 2014 un colloque international de géographie rurale sur « Les campagnes : espaces d'innovation dans un monde urbain ». Il s’agit de poursuivre les travaux engagés sur les transformations contemporaines  des espaces ruraux en Europe en les croisant plus particulièrement ici avec la notion d’innovation (entendue au sens large du terme). Trois axes de réflexion ont été retenus : pratiques,  valeurs  et  images  de  la  ruralité (réappropriations  et « recyclages ») ; quels innovateurs dans quels contextes d’innovation ? ; échelles et  territoires  de  l’innovation  dans les  campagnes européennes. La pertinence de la notion d’innovation comme grille de lecture des campagnes et son utilisation médiatique pourront également être discutées.



After  having  emphasised  the  study  of  rural  areas,  European  geographers  increasingly  lost  interest  in them during the years of economic growth after World War II. Nonetheless, a collection of work has emerged since  the  1960s  to  show  how  rural  areas  have  adapted  to  constraints  imposed  by  urbanization,  involving changing  ideas,  industrialization,  and  rural  marginalization  in  urbanized  and  globalized  society.  As  well  as acting  as  attractive  areas  for  residents,  rural  areas  have  been  studied  in  their  own  right  and  as  valuable counter  balances  for  urban  society.  Natural  resources,  recreation,  food  production,  post-productivist agriculture,  and  socio-economic  trends  have  become  important  objects  of  study  by  geographers  who  have rural  interests.  Whatever scale of observation is selected, these pieces of work will sometimes relate to agricultural or non-built-up areas, and sometimes to rural areas defined in relation to urban agglomerations.  Unless otherwise specified the term ‘countryside’ is used with this double meaning in the present call for papers.

The  work  of  the  CNRS  research  team  ‘Spaces  and  Societies’  (ESO)  and  its  colloquia  reflect  these orientations: ‘What countrysides for tomorrow?’ (Rennes, 1992); ‘Environment and nature in the countryside, new  functions  between  decline  and/or  revitalization’  (Nantes,  1997),  ‘Living  countrysides,  a  model  for Europe?’  (Nantes, 2000); ‘Making the countryside. Practices  and  projects  in  rural  spaces  today’  (Rennes, 2005).  The  ambition  of  the  colloquium  to  be  held  at Nantes  in  2014  is  to  propose  a  new  stage  in  the geographical  expression  of  this  ‘rural  renaissance’.  It  will  show  how  rural  dwellers  regard  the  city  and  the urban  world,  often  in  both  a  critical  and  a  utilitarian  way.  We argue that rural areas have become spaces capable of creating innovations to overcome some of the contradictions in urban society that surrounds them.

Also, we seek to examine how rural areas compete in new territorial assemblages marked by decentralization, reduced  control  by  central  State  authorities,  and  inter-territorial  cooperation,  and experiencing general competition (attractiveness of residences, tourism, and economic activities; and location of public services).

We have chosen to emphasise innovation as the way to approach these problems since this allows us to emphasize changes, both intentional and unintentional, the respond to ‘urban’ demand, that is to society as a whole. Expressed as adapting to constraints and exploiting new opportunities, innovation is a process  that relates to the application of technologies, to social processes and usage, to  ways  of  organizing  and evaluating  areas  (planning,  landscapes)  and  territories  (regulations,  structures  of  government  and governance). Different  scales  of  innovation,  from  the  individual  to  Europe  as  a  whole, may be approached spatially and thematically, either in an individual paper, or in a series of papers in sessions at the Conference.

The relevance of innovation as a means of analyzing the countryside and its use in the media may equally well be discussed.  Adopting  the  continent  of  Europe  as  the  frame  of  reference  for  the Conference allows useful comparisons to be made and diverse solutions to be explored from one region or one nation to another, both within the European Union or beyond its limits. The international dimension of the Conference  will  also  allow  geographical  approaches  of  various  countries  to  be  compared:  experience  of earlier bilateral conferences, such as Baeza in 2007, Colchester in 2009 and Münster in 2011, revealed points of convergence and complementarity.

Theme 1. Practices, values and images of rurality: reappropriations and ‘recycling’

‘Out-dated’ yesterday, innovating today?  Here the ideas is to compare temporalities, actors and spaces, by examining the renewal of certain practices, values  and images, as if countrysides are now benefitting  from a balancing effect. Responding to urban demand, certain practices that were neglected or even ridiculed from 1950 to the 1980s have now been renewed and reappraised to become the flavour of the month; locally-based food supply, organic farming, self-sufficient eco-friendly living, that were considered ‘alternative’ practices in the 1980s, are becoming commonplace in the countryside and are spreading in urban areas where gardening is sometime seen as urban agriculture. Some resources, such as enclosed, hedgerow landscapes (bocage), have been reappraised in a new economic and political context.  Certain  ‘resistance  to  change’  have  become ‘visionary’,  even  spearheading  technical  and  social innovation.  We suggest four themes, but these are not exhaustive.

  • Renewed ways of life

What  ‘rural’  practices  are  being  adopted  by  new  inhabitants  in  the  countryside,  and  are  they  bringing ‘urban’ practices with them? Should a form of settlement planning be developed from urban experience in rural areas that are already rich in their own settlement forms? There are threats of suburban housing in the countryside; should there be a focus on rural production and conservation? Is rural depopulation releasing housing stock? Different national contexts permit various forms of creativity.

  • What landscapes for attractive countryside?

Emphasising individuals and families especially, to what extent do landscapes shape the attractiveness of the countryside that is initially recognized collectively? How to reconcile the green, bucolic imagery of tourist and residential publicity, with modernized agriculture and its landscape consequences? How are local councillors and residents coping with these changes? What new, ‘neo-naturalist’ images of the countryside are there, linked to environmentalism? What links are there between environmentalism, preservation, economic development, and ‘nature-urbanization’, discussed in Spain in 2007?

  • Forms of emerging culture in the countryside

‘Alternative’  groups,  marginalized  members  of  society (punks,  squatters,  travellers,  those  in temporary  shelters  or  mobile  homes),  once  unthinkable  in  the  countryside,  are  now  installing themselves  and  not  necessarily  receiving  more  hostility  that  in  towns.  What  is  their  contribution  to  rural revitalization,  to  the  emergence  of  a  new  kind  of  plural,  or  multicultural  society,  and to  the  renewal  of social interaction? Where are such places in Europe’s countrysides? In peri-urban areas, what balance is there between metropolitan governance and initiatives by local residents?

d) Reconquest and re-invention of the local

Perhaps the countryside is a better place for envisaging new expressions of the ‘local’, as opposed to the banalization of places and ways of life in our urbanized, globalized world. With growing concern for locally produced food some farmers are mediators who are imparting new ‘meanings’ and identities to rural places. Carthorses in towns? Use of local building materials? Other innovations in the countryside, such as OGMs, encounter resistance in society. Can the differences between farmers’ quest for efficiency and new urban demands (e.g. for quality foodstuffs, respect for nature) be reduced?  To what extent are ecological and environmental approaches being introduced into territorial planning? Across some open spaces some groups enjoy recreation (hiking, picking flowers and berries, hunting, fishing), whilst access to other open areas is declining: how to regulate such areas and reconcile these differences?

Theme 2. Which innovators and what context for innovation?

The aim is to envisage countrysides as places of innovation, to examine innovators, and to explore the contexts and conditions (both specific and recurrent) for the emergence and diffusion of innovations; but also to see how these processes favour some actors rather than others. Can one identify unknown innovators?

  • Trajectories of individuals and groups of innovators

Looking at individuals and groups in various territorial and thematic contexts may help us understand conditions for innovation in European countryside. On what ideological bases have innovators conceived action? What models adopted, and experiments conducted? What support have they received, and what help is lacking?  Can  one  identify  the  autonomy  of  these  innovators  against  the  norms  of  wider  society  or  local society?

  • Support for innovation

What support from cooperative and other groups? Do such structures help overcome the inconvenience of living in thinly-peopled areas? Do they help to mobilize local dynamism? What innovating services? Can flexible, multi-services be developed? How may one mobilize inter-generational links in ageing rural areas? What innovating role for young rural people?  Do  young  rural  people  wish  to  continue  to  live  in  the countryside, and if so under what conditions?

  • Experiments with local democracy

Social and territorial organization at the local scale varies enormously across Europe. These variations may be discussed here, including attempts at participative democracy, community initiatives, and attempts to reconcile local actors. Changes in administrative authorities offer a chance to observe aspects of resistance and negotiation between rural dwellers and their political representatives.

  • Public policies to encourage innovation

In addition to the CAP, there have been various EU initiatives, including the LEADER programme and ‘poles of rural excellence’. What are the relations between such schemes and local groups in the countryside? How effective have these schemes been in encouraging new initiatives and new economic enterprises? How effective have externally imposed innovations been (e.g. modern livestock accommodation). To what extent do innovations stimulate social change or reinforce established social structures? It is important not to avoid Adopting a critical approach to innovations. On the one hand to encourage innovators may help clarify political responsibilities when confronted by economic crisis. On the other hand, innovation sometimes hides its role in structural elaboration and reproduction. How does innovation produce renewed social structures? How does it support established social structures?  If the European countryside becomes a  place  for innovation,  to  what  extent  will  its  image  of  social backwardness  and  inferiority  to  urban  life  remain?  Will public  policies  allow  rural  areas  to  experiment,  as geographers  would  like  to  see,  without  hindrance  or blinkers.

Theme 3. Scales and territories of innovation in Europe’s countryside

This cluster seeks to explore geographical conditions behind the emergence and diffusion of innovations in the European countryside:  innovations characterized under the first two themes. To encourage crossnational information, some sessions in this third cluster might be scheduled early in the Conference.

  • Recent territorial changes in Europe

Changes in local authority units, regionalization and related issues are fundamental to understanding the dynamism of actors and the emergence of innovations in rural areas. Comparative papers covering more than one country would be useful.  How  do  rural  areas  fare  in  terms  of  administration  by  comparison  with surrounding urban areas and urban society?

  • Emergence and diffusion of innovations in rural areas

Europe demonstrates certain types of location for certain innovations:- windfarms, organic farming, local food systems, rural festivals. Where are new models (for agriculture, settlement, energy) emerging, and how are they being diffused?  Is this  a  matter of  proximity  and  networks,  or  is  it  a  more  random process? How typical are the various experiences studied? Can the idea of ‘intermediate space’, as in Germany, be applied elsewhere with regard to new forms of mobility (not necessarily rural to urban) or new forms of production?

  • Localism and proximity in debate

Here it is expected that there will be discussion of competition between areas, since innovation is a factor of competiveness; how may this operate in the context of competing territories?  Or what inter-territorial solidarities may be identified?  Can innovations and resources be shared among different areas?  Forms of transport  (public,  on-request,  car-sharing)  might  be  a  revealing  theme  to  illuminate  the  link  between innovation and territorial re-composition. Similarly for energy: how to produce it, and consume it? Conflicts between  national  planning  and  local  concerns  can  be identified:  should  rural  areas  produce  energy  for  the national market and for towns nearby? Can they be efficient and significant in the regional environment? Do rural dwellers produce less household rubbish that their urban counterparts?

  • Comparability and transferability of innovation

From a scientific point of view, can one compare what is happening in the countrysides of the different nations of Europe?  To  what  extent  do  juridical,  socio-economic  and  cultural  differences  limit  such comparisons  or  make  them  invalid?  How  do  local  actors  make  such  evaluations,  for  example  when  they discover relevant innovations in areas they have visited in other European countries? Can one make a critical study  of  policies,  such  as  LEADER,  which  focus  on  the  transferability  of  experiences?  Comparison and transfer may be appreciated at different scales: nation, region, and locality. Broad comparisons may be made but differences between neighbouring localities can create walls of incomprehension! The transferability of innovations requires openness to new ideas. Fortunately, such openness seems to be present in many rural areas  of  Europe,  especially  where  migrations  trends have  contributed  to  a  greater  diversification  of  their population: examples and analyses of such situations will be welcome.

Submission guidelines

The date for submitting proposals for delivering papers is

15 October 2013

Proposals to be send to: <rural.conference@univ-nantes.fr>

Proposals are to be sent as pdf files as on two side of A4.

  • On the first side is to be shown the title of the paper in the language to be used for the presentation, followed by the translation of the title into the three other languages of the Conference. For each author and co-author, family name, first name, university position, home institution, and email are to be given.
  • On the second side should be indicated, in 11 point font, the language to be used and a summary of the proposed paper emphasising its problematic, its methodology (including the area(s) studies for empirical studies) and the principal results obtained. Information from both sides of the proposal sheet will be considered by members of the scientific committee and will not be confidential in character.

Authors will be informed if their proposal has been selected by early December 2013, and must send their written  paper (or,  failing  that,  a  long  summary)  by April  2014,  so  that  the  proceedings  may be distributed (either electronically or on paper, but without ISBN) well before the meeting. This will facilitate discussions at the Conference.

Oral communications will be presented in one of the four languages of the Conference. Instructions will be given regarding the possibility of bilingual slide presentations (powerpoint) with text in French and English.

After the Conference, contributors will have the opportunity of submitting their revised texts before 20 September 2014, with a view to publication. The scientific committee envisages that this may be in the form of special  issues  of  academic  journals,  or  edited  volumes  to  be  offered  to  reputable  publishing  houses.  The precise  form  of  publication  will  depend  on  the  theme  and  the  language  of  the  material  submitted  by each author. 

The  scientific  committee  cannot  guarantee  publication  but anticipates  being  able  to  communicate what solution has been adopted by the end of 2014, depending upon favourable responses from the reviewers, in the case of journals, and from publishers, in the case of books.

Scientific Committee

  • BERMOND (Dr. Michaël - ), Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
  • BORN (Pr. Karl Martin - ), Universität Vechta, Niedersachsen, Deutschland
  • CAWLEY (Pr. Mary - ), National University of Ireland, Galway, Eire
  • CLOUT (Pr. Hugh - ), University College, London, United Kingdom
  • DESLONDES (Pr. Olivier - ), Université Lyon 2, Rhône-Alpes, France
  • ESPARCIA PÉREZ (Pr. Javier - ), Universitat de València, València, Espana
  • FIRMINO (Pr. Ana - ), Universidade nuova de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal
  • FORTUNEL (Dr. Frédéric - ), Université du Mans, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • GRABSKI-KIERON (Pr. Ulrike - ), Universität Münster, Nordrhein-Westphalen, Deutschland
  • HALFACREE (Dr. Keith - ), University of Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom
  • JOUSSEAUME (Dr. Valérie - ), Université de Nantes, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • LACQUEMENT (Pr. Guillaume - ), Université de Perpignan, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
  • LE CARO (Dr. Yvon - ), Université Rennes 2, Bretagne, France
  • MADELINE (Pr. Philippe - ), Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
  • MARGETIC (Pr. Christine - ), Université de Nantes, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • MATA OLMO (Pr. Rafael - ), Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Madrid, Espana
  • MOLINERO HERNANDO (Pr. Fernando - ), Universidad de Valladolid, Castilla y León, Espana
  • MORRIS (Dr. Carol - ), University of Nottingham, East Midlands, United Kingdom
  • PIERRE (Dr. Geneviève - ), Université d’ Angers, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • PLAZA GUTIÉRREZ (Pr. Juan Ignacio - ), Universidad de Salamanca, Castilla y León, Espana
  • POULOT (Pr. Monique - ), Université Paris-Ouest, Ile-de-France, France
  • POUZENC (Dr. Michaël - ), Université de Toulouse 2, Midi-Pyrénées, France
  • QUEVA (Dr. Christophe - ), Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Ile-de-France, France
  • REICHERT-SCHICK (Dr. Anja - ), Universität Trier, Rheinland-Pfalz,Deutschland
  • ROSSI (Pr Luisa - ), Universita di Parma, Emilia-Romagne, Italia
  • ROTH (Dr. Hélène - ), Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne, France
  • SOULARD (Dr. Christophe Toussaint - ), INRA de Montpellier, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
  • WALFORD (Pr. Nigel - ), Kingston University, London, United Kingdom

Organization Committee

  • BACCONNIER-BAYLET (Dr. Sandrine - ), Université du Mans, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • BERMOND (Dr. Michaël - ), Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
  • DESLONDES (Pr. Olivier - ), Université Lyon 2, Rhône-Alpes, France
  • FORTUNEL (Dr. Frédéric - ), Université du Mans, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • GUIU (Dr. Claire - ), Université de Nantes, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • JOUSSEAUME (Dr. Valérie - ), Université de Nantes, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • LACQUEMENT (Pr. Guillaume - ), Université de Perpignan, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
  • LE CARO (Dr. Yvon - ), Université Rennes 2, Bretagne, France
  • MADELINE (Pr. Philippe - ), Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
  • MARGETIC (Pr. Christine - ), Université de Nantes, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • MARIE (Dr. Maxime - ), Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
  • MONTEMBAULT (Dr. David - ), Université d’ Angers, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • PIERRE (Dr. Geneviève - ), Université d’ Angers, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • RIVIERE (Dr. Jean - ), Université de Nantes, Pays-de-la-Loire, France
  • ROUGET (Dr. Nicolas - ), Université de Valenciennes, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France



  • Nantes, France (44)


  • Tuesday, October 15, 2013


  • géographie rurale, espaces ruraux, campagnes, innovations, agriculture, groupes sociaux


  • Yvon Le Caro
    courriel : yvon [dot] lecaro [at] uhb [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Michaël Bermond
    courriel : michael [dot] bermond [at] unicaen [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The Countryside: spaces of innovation in an urban world », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, July 15, 2013, https://calenda.org/255439

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