Qualification project

Facing Regional Challenges: Investigating the Discursive Construction of Challenges for Structurally Weak European Rural Regions.

Research department: Economy and Civil Society

IRS Research Topic: New Social Practices Shared Knowledge - Locally and Over Distance Research on Innovation Processes

Funding Organization: European Union

Duration: 10/2017 - 11/2021

In current times, many rural regions in Europe are facing major social and economic problems. With a declining population in rural areas, both the public and private sectors struggle to keep services at the same levels as before. However, due to a decrease in revenue they are often only poorly maintained and as a result can become under-utilised and end up with being withdrawn. Similarly, also local living conditions and quality of life decreases as unemployment rises and skilled labour becomes limited.

These developments are mirrored in the media where structurally weak rural areas face recurring negative discourses. This can further reduce economic opportunities by framing the regions as a less rewarding context for both economic development and for everyday living, thus preventing rural regions from overcoming structural deficits.

The so-called agenda setting approach bases on the assumption that media discourses organise the agenda of the public. Against this background it can be argued that discourses may reinforce negative perceptions and/or support the view that solutions are needed. They might call for and legitimise community and political action. Leveraging support for a specific troubleshooting and for approaches to solutions may depend however on the way in which problems are discursively framed and/or awareness of specific problems is created by the media.

The objective of the dissertation thesis is therefore to analyse the “discursive construction” respectively the “framing” of development trajectories in the regions under investigation and to understand them as a context of perceiving and troubleshooting. The comprehensive research question is, how challenges (or opportunities) in structurally weak rural regions are identified and framed, and how this influences specific ways of taking action and problem solving.

The case studies chosen for the research are two regions: the Uckermark in Germany and the Mühlviertel in Austria. They perform below average on socio-economic indicators compared to similar regions in their countries and are thus both considered to be structurally weak within their national context.

The dissertation project is supervised by Prof. Dr. Gabriela Christmann (Technical University of Berlin; IRS), Prof. Dr. Nina Baur (Technical University of Berlin) and Dr. Mary O’Shaughnessy (Cork University Business School, University College Cork).