Rural futures in a complex world.
Rural futures sit at the nexus of contemporary global challenges. Some of the challenges facing rural areas in the 21st century include climate change, migration, ageing, depopulation, technological innovations and urbanisation. Significantly, not all rural areas are alike: some lie close to urban centres and are embedded within a wider hinterland, while others are extremely remote, often struggling to survive. Many rural spaces sit in the ‘squeezed middle’ of high demand for consumption, production and protection functions. Some rural areas are significantly more successful in this modern, complex and seemingly chaotic world, while other places seem to be increasingly marginalised. The people living in rural areas are also diverse. They have different interests and aspirations and include long term residents, life-style migrants, retirees, migrant entrepreneurs, farmers and business owners, among many others. Rural living and cultural identity are closely intertwined and often the inflow of new residents creates stress upon existing rural communities. Clearly, multiple vectors of change impact locally across rural space, resulting in uneven development trajectories. Opportunities ebb and flow according to a complex array of different forces, both internal and external to the locality. The result is that some places naturally evolve, adapt and self-transform, while others rely on outside forces to drive change.
It is against this context that we want to explore rural futures in Europe as we move through the 21st century. We identify three key elements of this complexity which raise questions for rural studies and which necessarily transcend disciplinary boundaries.