Academic journal article Rural Society

Considering the Implications of Place-Based Approaches for Improving Rural Community Wellbeing: The Value of a Relational Lens

Academic journal article Rural Society

Considering the Implications of Place-Based Approaches for Improving Rural Community Wellbeing: The Value of a Relational Lens

Article excerpt

Drawing on ideas circulating in the contemporary policy environment, this article considers how spatial, place-based approaches to improving rural community wellbeing may be enhanced through employing a relational conceptualisation of space and place (Cummins, Curtis, Diez-Roux, & Matin tyre, 2007). Our intention is not to comprehensively or chronologically interrogate the concepts we consider here; rather, the purpose is to stimulate thinking and debate on how a relational approach to measuring wellbeing may reframe tackling rural health and community development policy-making.

Within current spatial approaches to policy development and implementation, the rural has been distinguished as 'different.' Subsequently, it is often the target or beneficiary (depending on perspective), of place-based initiatives and policies which aim to invigorate communities through increasing wellbeing and resilience (Bridger & Alter, 2008). These respond to the negative connotations associated with rural places, linked to rural populations' poor health and socio-economic status (Smith, Humphreys, & Wilson, 2008), decreasing rural services and industry (Woods, 2005) and continuing marginalisation in policy (Asthana, Halliday, & Gibson, 2009). However, successful implementation of place-based policy in rural spaces to improve community wellbeing is problematic (Bridger & Alter, 2008), and we contest this is partly because of the way policy conceptualises rural.

Wellbeing has become a popular policy 'storyline' - an idea which is intuitively appealing, but hard to pin down (Needham, 2011). Used in health policy, it reflects a strengths-based emphasis (Bourke, Humphreys, Wakerman, & Taylor, 2010; Tedmanson & Guerin, 2011) aligned with neoliberal 'responsibilisation' (Lemke, 2001) and capability building approaches (Nussbaum, 2011). Australian and international policy promotes developing wellbeing to address healthrelated disadvantage (Department for Work and Pensions, 2013; National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, 2009). Factors impacting negatively on wellbeing often have geographic or spatial dimensions that manifest at neighbourhood, community or regional level (Cameron, 2006; Fleuret & Atkinson, 2007). Recognising this, governments and health authorities have implemented place-based policies aiming to improve community wellbeing. This is done to promote community-driven problem solving (Goldenberg, 2008) and to improve places, with the expectation that this will benefit individuals who live there (Olfert & Partridge, 2010).

Rural is often portrayed as a homogeneous space, as reflected in place-based policies which are enacted at the 'territorial' or 'locality-based' level (Halfacree, 1993; Ray, 2000). However, contemporary health geographers are increasingly advocating a need to view rural space as 'relational' (Boyle & Halfacree, 1998; Mahon, 2007). This implies that rather than being purely spatial entities, 'rural' spaces and places are socially constructed through networks, connections, flows and mobilities, and the associated social, economic, cultural and political forms and processes (Woods, 2011). Urban spaces may be similarly conceptualised, but distinguished by their production of a particular type of space that reflects physical and social signifiers of what 'urban' represents (Mahon, 2007). Our point is to consider whether a relational lens could assist in implementing and evaluating place-based wellbeing initiatives in rural settings. Such an approach could address some of the one-size-fits-all territorial assumptions inherent within extant policy. The article synthesises critiques of rural placebased community wellbeing policy, and considers the value of applying a relational approach. The intent is to invite more critique of the geographical constructs applied in policy to improve the wellbeing of rural communities.

Literature review & theory

Defining terms

Before progressing further, we define some of the key terms, appreciating there are multiple, related methods of interpretation. …

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