Academic journal article Rural Society

Sites of Integration in a Contested Landscape

Academic journal article Rural Society

Sites of Integration in a Contested Landscape

Article excerpt


Rural communities have undergone unprecedented change in recent decades. As Lane, McDonald and Morrison (2004, p. 110) argue:

'Rurality' in Australia is now a space inhabited by diverse communities pursuing divene practices; the rural landscape is a mosaic nota monoculture.

Various rural geographers have described the changes in agriculture and rural communities in terms of a shift from productivism to post-productivism (Halfacree, 1997; Ilbery & Bowler, 1998; Murdoch, Lowe, Ward & Marsden, 2003). The term postproductivism is used to describe the way in which agriculture in rural society has lost its hegemonic position; it reflects the diversification of the agricultural policy community. Activities associated with productivism that aim for productivity and optimization within rural industries now compete with other imperatives, which has led to differentiation of rural communities:

... the hierarchy of activities that has long dominated rural space has been challenged by alternative demands on rural land and other resources. What counts as legitimate use of land-based resources can no longer be automatically assumed by reference to past practice and consequently activities in a range of sectors have been politicized (Murdoch et al., 2003, p. 8).

As a result of the politicisation of these activities, land management agencies recognise that in order to resolve sustainability dilemmas, it is important to bring the diverse stakeholders together to negotiate the sustainable use of natural resources (Röling, 2002). This policy orientation towards collaborative approaches has recendy been discussed with reference to the literature on social capital. Social capital is defined in many different ways, but the most common aspects associated with it include the networks, norms and trust that exist within a community as a resource for development (Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988; Field, 2003; Putnam, 1995; Putnam, 2000; Whittaker & Banwell, 2002; Woolcock, 1998). It is argued that by enhancing the networks and trust within a community, people are better able to mobilise existing skills and work collaboratively to resolve social, economic and environmental issues (Whittaker & Banwell, 2002, p. 22). Overall, the term social capital has become prominent as an organising principle in die Australian policy context (eg. Hess & Adams, 2002; Productivity Commission, 2003; Stone, 2001; Stone & Hughes, 2002). Hess and Adams (2002) have argued that the advent of the discourse of social capital has taken policy development down a path that allows a diversity of participants to contribute to the policy development process.

In this paper we aim to contribute to an understanding of how to build the relationships or arrangements (social capital) that allow diverse stakeholders to co-operate across social, political and economic domains in order to address land management issues. Our discussion draws on a case study of a project implemented by the Victorian state government Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) and later the Department of Primary Industries PPI). The Developing Social Capability (DSQ project was designed to involve a diversity of stakeholders in the land management process.

Platforms for change

Researchers from a variety of disciplines have contributed to our understanding of participatory rural development processes The literature emphasises social learning, networking, interplay between stakeholders, alignment of norms and values, and integration between actors and practices as important factors in effectively facilitating change (Bawden, Packham, Macadam & McKenzie, 2000; Bawden, 1990; Cerf et al. 2000; Engel & Salomon, 1997; Leeuwis & Pybum, 2002; Paine, 1997; Röling & Wagemakers, 1998). However, at times it is assumed that participation/er se leads to positive and inclusive change outcome. Yet Lane et al (2004, p. 106) point out that participative approaches can be dominated by powerful local elites, or can become hostage to local conservatism that allows for only incremental changes to the status quo, and at times can even increase intolerance toward minority groups. …

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