Qualification project

Figurations of the Rural. Discursive Constructions of Rural Areas between Place of Longing and Residual Space

Research department: Economy and Civil Society

Project Leader within IRS: Dr. Ariane Sept

Duration: 10/2020 - 09/2024

Rural areas are regularly associated with negative images of problems such as demographic change, loss of infrastructure, or lack of broadband connections. This culminates in attributions such as “dying villages”, “bleeding out”, or “empty landscapes”, especially with regard to structurally weak regions in the eastern German states. Rural exodus, so the reductive discursive assumption, was an unstoppable fact and the future lay in the big cities. For some years, however, a new tone seems to have entered the debate, which rapidly intensified in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic: now urban flight appears as a new trend. Rural areas are supposedly gaining in attractiveness, either because they are seen as new spaces of opportunity or because land and space are becoming increasingly scarce in the big cities in the wake of rising rent/ownership prices. This “current conjuncture of the rural” (Baumann 2018) simultaneously thrives on a romantic view of rural areas.

However, rural areas are subject to constant change and have always been, since industrialisation, at the same time a place of longing, a discontinued model, a projection for life in suburban areas, an unappreciated residual space, or a place of tradition and conservatism. At the same time, there seems to be a consensus among scholars that the dichotomous separation of city and countryside, urban and rural, is no longer tenable and is being replaced by an increasing hybridisation of spatial forms.

The habilitation project is dedicated to the changes in the social constructions of the rural as well as their significance for spatial planning and development by analysing the discursive construction of rural areas and their changes since the 1960s in Germany. The project sets out to systematize the complexity of these tendencies and debates. In doing so, the thesis is pursued that it is not sufficient to dissolve the dichotomy of city and country by stating a hybridisation and searching for terms for such a hybridisation. Instead, city and countryside, urban and rural, are to be understood as complex networks of relationships (figurations) between spatial categories that are subject to a constant dynamic of change and can each exhibit their own specificities. In the sense of Elias and following the idea of a “re-figuration of spaces” (Löw/Knoblauch 2019), a concept will be developed that can grasp both a hybridisation of urban and rural spatial forms in the rural as well as (conscious) demarcations, dominant spatial characters and at the same time can serve as a practical auxiliary construct in spatial planning and development.