Rural development - a challenge for European inter-disciplinary research

The challenge of inter-disciplinarity

Research objectives will have to focus on:

  • Trends in rural areas at EU level (including Eastern enlargement) and their causes and consequences.
  • Level of aggregation for developing new explanations of rural differentiation (local, regional, national, trans-national).
  • Survey and comparison on theoretical approaches on rural development
  • Assessment of EU (and national) policy programmes and tendencies in a context of increasing globalisation.
  • The role of (national) institutional frameworks and shifts in governance between levels and institutional impacts.
  • Alterations in the meaning of the “rural” (dynamic view on territory and society) and processes through which social values are constructed.

In many respects inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary methods are at the core of research questions for rural areas. Therefore the adequate link and interrelation to the main research disciplines and the extension towards new fields might signify momentum for the rural debate, particularly required in a ever globalising world.

Involvement of Austrian research

Rural policy in Austria has been more closely related to regional policy than in other European countries when aimed at its territorial meaning. Hence, rural research activities concentrate on the analysis of endogenous development in peripheral rural areas, the role of mountain areas, issues of regional development (e.g. commuting, territorial disparities) and regional impacts of agrarian policy. Indeed very often the term rural development is still not referred to through the territorial and integrative aspect, but closely related with agricultural development. The Austrian Rural Development Plan (2000-2006) which has been adopted as one of the first programmes by the EU Commission sets its priorities in agri-environmental orientation, compensation for farming in less-favoured areas and diversification of agriculture. However, there is a sound basis for local "bottom-up" action which is expressed by the strong commitment for regional activities and programmes like the LEADER+ Community Initiative.
Though only a few research institutes have been involved in rural research at a European level (Dax 1996), interest for international co-operation seems to increase over recent years. The Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen has been central Austrian partner, particularly through the participation in several core EU-projects and activities dealing with rural development perspectives and research. This includes the long-term EU study on pluriactivity and agricultural structures (Rural Change in Europe), the REAPER and RUSSTIC networks, the PAYPIRD project, and expert activities for OECD, FAO and EU-Commission, as well as a tight integration into the international discussion on rural policies and research.
Beyond the increasing research interest in the issue (from EU Commission, OECD,FAO; universities, local and regional actors and public debate) there is major concern for providing an institutional framework for scientific exchange at various national and international levels and organisations. Elaborating a Network of Excellence might be a challenge for the European scientific community. This would allow to address the issues of differentiated development of rural areas and the need for inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary methods. It seems particularly important to reach also local "bottom-up" activities, of which Austria has acquired significant experience. This link to practitioners will be essential to provide appropriate input for the next policy reforms.
In: Ländlicher Raum Nr. 1/2002, Online Zeitschrift des Bundesministeriums für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft, Wien


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Contact information:
Mr. Thomas Dax
Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen
Mölllwaldplatz 5
A-1040 Wien
Tel: +43 (01) 504 88 69 0
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Types of regions in Europe
Source: OECD 2000