Session 2: Transformations

There is, perhaps, a view of “the rural” as something that is not strongly affected by change. The different dimensions, however, that make up “the rural” are constantly transforming. This is especially visible in contemporary Europe, where rural areas are characterised by different processes of demographic and socio-economic restructuring, changes in environments and spatial identities, and technological change—bringing both opportunities and threats. The aforementioned changes relate to shifts in policies aimed at rural areas and, simply put, changes in ways we think about “the rural”.


Five specific dimensions of transformations can be regarded in this context: economic change; social and demographic change; environmental change; technological/digital change; and political change. This session welcomes papers dealing with any and all such aspects of change in rural areas, worldwide. We also welcome other topics related to rural transformations.


Some of the questions we invite you to discuss in your papers are:

  • What are important challenges of different forms of economic diversification of rural areas?
  • In light of differing demographic processes in rural areas, how can we achieve balance in terms of quality of life for the local population?
  • What are the main challenges related to environmental change around the globe? What are examples of good practices in answering them?   
  • Which development possibilities arise from technological change in rural areas?
  • How can we strengthen the interconnectedness of stakeholders and actors in rural areas so that theoretical concepts of endogenous, neo-endogenous, and bottom-up development are actually able to fulfil the theories’ promises?
  • How can we adjust policy measures to different typologies of rural areas?
  • What are key driving forces and uncertainties influencing future pathways for rural areas?


Although agriculture remains the dominant form of land use in rural areas (Rienks, 2008), it is becoming increasingly apparent that agriculture is not the main economic activity in many rural regions, and that economic diversification has changed the ways in which rural areas are perceived (Ilbery, 1998; Woods, 2005). Economic change encompasses different strands of economic diversification, stemming from the functioning of small and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas, as well as the general transition from productivism to post-productivism and consumption society. Tourism and recreation have especially, for decades, been a significant response to various challenges and threats to rural areas (Butler et al., 1998; Cawley and Gillmor, 2008; Hall et al., 2003).


Social and demographic change also reflects differently across the rural world. In general, rural areas in the proximity to cities and coastal zones show stronger positive trends than urban areas. However, the majority of more-remote rural areas are characterised by depopulation processes. The question of strategies of future development incorporates different possible ways to deal with shrinkage. This includes approaches aiming at reversing shrinking trends and stimulating population growth, or “coping with decline”, i.e. accepting shrinkage and adapting to its economic and social consequences (ESPON, 2017, 2). Globalisation processes also affect these trends worldwide (Woods, 2011). Furthermore, social and demographic change includes cultural change and changes in identities (Matišić and Pejnović, 2015).


Rural areas have multiple roles in relation to the environment. Apart from encompassing the natural environment, they can serve as buffer zones delineating certain areas (e.g. urban agglomerations, protected areas) and provide ecosystem services. Different roles can lead to various conflicts related to spatial and functional organisation. Demographic, cultural, and economic factors, physical characteristics of the environment itself, and their complex interactions all influence the environmental and land-use change. For example, in the context of former communist and socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, areas undergoing general depopulation trends and population ageing are often characterised by shrub encroachment and farmland abandonment, while flatlands and lowland areas have been undergoing higher rates of agricultural intensification (Cvitanović et al., 2017).


Technological/digital change has made many promises related to development possibilities of rural areas. One of the aspects is the way we think about physical distance and transport accessibility, which has been changing with the pace of technological innovation (Clayton, 2009). However, digital change also results in the disappearance of numerous central services (e.g. post offices), which have a much higher significance in rural areas than in urban areas.


Bottom-up approaches to planning and development gained momentum in the 1990s. The most prominent example of this in the European Union context has been the LEADER approach, based on territorial partnerships between the public, civil, and private sectors. Although it has often been praised as a successful, innovative approach to rural development, there have been some disappointments. Its guiding principles have been regarded as overly idealistic and impractical, and a shift away from innovative projects has been noted. Some have posed the question of whether the LEADER programme is elitist or inclusive (Shucksmith, 2010; Marquardt et al., 2010; Dax et al., 2013; Thuesen, 2010; Lukić and Obad, 2016).


In the context of endogenous and exogenous development, along with raising the issue of neo-rural development, rural areas are searching for strategies for optimal planning and managing their development in the complex network of actors. While encouraging participative and community-led forms of planning can bring numerous positive results on local levels, devolution of powers and the shift from government to governance also requires clarity of roles and empowering local authorities to understand and accept new models of planning and development (Shucksmith, 2010).


Five dimensions of change reflect differently depending on the natural and social characteristics of rural areas, bringing to the front the importance of typological approaches—as instruments for identification of territorial differences, for analysis and comparison of different areas, and development of appropriate strategies for the development of rural areas. Given the diversity and strength of rural transformations, the issue of the future of rural areas has come to the fore as well, leading to possible scenarios of rural development—scenarios that will reveal links among various dimensions of change, diverse possibilities of development, and optimal policy measures.




Butler, R., Hall, C. M., Jenkins J. (eds.), 1998: Tourism and Recreation in Rural Areas, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

Cawley M., Gillmor D. A., 2008: Integrated Rural Tourism: Concepts and Practice, Annals of Tourism Research 35 (2), 316-337.

Clayton, D. 2009: Time-space convergence, in. Gregory, D., Johnston, R., Pratt, G., Watts, M. J. and Whatmore, S. (eds.): The Dictionary of Human Geography, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, 758-759.

Cvitanović, M., Lučev, I., Fuerst-Bjeliš, B., Slavuj Borčić, L., Horvat, S., Valožić, L., 2017: Analyzing post-socialist grassland conversion in a traditional agricultural landscape: case study Croatia, Journal of Rural Studies 51, 53-63.

Dax, T., Strahl, W., Kirwan, J., Maye, D., 2013: The Leader programme 2007-2013: enabling or disabling social innovation and neo-endogenous development? Insights from Austria and Ireland, European Urban and Regional Studies 23 (1), 56-68.

ESPON, 2017: Shrinking rural regions in Europe, Towards smart and innovative approaches to regional development challenges in depopulating rural regions, Policy Brief,


Hall, D., Roberts, L., Mitchell, M. (eds.), 2003: New Directions in Rural Tourism, Ashgate, Aldershot.

Ilbery B. (ed.), 1998: The Geography of Rural Change, Addison Wesley Longman Limited, Harlow.

Lukić, A., 2013: Tourism, Farm Diversification and Plurality of Rurality: Case Study of Croatia, European Countryside 4, 356-376.

Lukić, A., Obad, O., 2016: New Actors in Rural Development – The LEADER Approach and Projectification in Rural Croatia, Sociologija i prostor 54 (1/204), 71-90.

Marquardt, D., Wegener, S., Möllers, J., 2010: Does the EU LEADER instrument support endogenous development and new modes of governance in Romania?: experiences from elaborating an MCDA based regional development concept, International Journal of Rural Management 6 (2), 193-241.

Matišić, M., Pejnović, D., 2015: Uzroci i posljedice zaostajanja Istočne Hrvatske u regionalnom razvoju Hrvatske/The causes and consequences of Eastern Croatia lagging behind in Croatian regional development, Hrvatski geografski glasnik/ Croatian Geographical Bulletin 77 (2), 101-140.

Rienks W. A. (ed.), 2008: The future of rural Europe: An anthology based on the results of the Eururalis 2.0 scenario study, Wageningen University Research and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Wageningen.

Shucksmith, M., 2010: Disintegrated Rural Development? Neo-endogenous Rural Development, Planning and Place-Shaping in Diffused Power Contexts, Sociologia Ruralis 50 (1), 1-14.

Thuesen, A. A., 2010: Is LEADER Elitist or Inclusive? Composition of Danish LAG Boards in the 2007–2013 Rural Development and Fisheries Programmes, Sociologia Ruralis 50 (1), 31-45.

Woods M., 2005: Rural Geography: Processes, Responses and Experiences in Rural Restructuring, Sage Publications Ltd, London.

Woods, M., 2011: Rural, London, Routledge.