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About the Conference

The participative village. Governing rural everyday worlds in times of the New Rural Paradigm


Conference of the Section "Cultural Analysis of the Rural" of the German Association of Cultural Anthropology and Folklore Studies (dgv)

8-10 October 2020, Department for Cultural Anthropology, University of Bonn, Germany

Keynotes: Prof. Dr. Bettina Bock (Wageningen University), Dr. Keith Halfacree (Swansea University)

Organizers: Ove Sutter, Oliver Müller, Sina Wohlgemuth, Jana Brass


Rural regions in Europe and their everyday worlds are subject to extensive socioeconomic and cultural transformations – contrasting with their representation as decelerated and traditional environments still dominant in popular imagery. Against the backdrop of increasing urbanization, deindustrialization and ecological crises, they face pressures to reinvent themselves. National and supranational institutions accompany and promote this transformation through political-economic measures. Since the 1990s, following the “New Rural Paradigm,” they have been focusing on investments instead of welfare state compensation, on the diversification of rural economies and on the exploitation of unused “endogenous resources” instead of a subsidy-driven development.

This process is characterized by forms of “participatory governance,” which seek to activate communities’ self-governing capacities and lead to a pluralization of actors involved in governing the diversified countryside. In addition to the mayor and the local council, new protagonists are introduced, such as regional managers, village caretakers and, not least, the active residents. The latter are encouraged to play an active role as responsible residents in the future development and shaping of their region. In village festival halls and community centres, residents analyse their “strengths” and “weaknesses,” define “development potentials” and formulate a vision for the future to obtain public funding. In this process, historically evolved imaginations of the village as a close-knit, cohesive and neighbourly caring community interlock with contemporary forms of neoliberal governance. Voluntary village associations, historical buildings and seemingly “natural” landscapes become “endogenous resources” for future development supposed to benefit the village in overcoming its economic, ecological and demographic challenges. At the same time, in the local arenas of participatory governance, traditional political actors and village networks encounter newly settled counter-urbanizers and allocated refugees with differing and sometimes conflicting notions of the “good life” (in the countryside). Handed down forms of village association, voluntary work and political negotiation meet participatory approaches of networking and project-based participation.

Media and political discourses also have an impact on these transformations: From idyllic representations of rural family life and the countryside as “homeland” (“Heimat”) in glossy magazines and visions of urban “coworking villages” to populist narratives of a cultural and political cleavage between grounded ordinary country people, on the one hand, and disconnected cosmopolitan and urban elites, on the other.

In order to fully comprehend these current sociocultural transformations and negotiations, they have to be related to historically evolved ideas of responsibility and belonging, to practices of “taking care” and “being taken care of,” and to structures of political negotiation and local community engagement. Concomitantly, the political-economic mobilizations and sometimes conflicting formations of memory and remembrance must be closely examined as they underpin the production of distinct local identities and “community.”

The conference discusses these wide-ranging transformations with a focus on the representations, practices and materialities of everyday life worlds of rural regions and their inhabitants from a historical and contemporary perspective.