Academic journal article Rural Society

Selling Ruralities: How Tourist Entrepreneurs Commodify Traditional and Alternative Ways of Conceiving the Countryside

Academic journal article Rural Society

Selling Ruralities: How Tourist Entrepreneurs Commodify Traditional and Alternative Ways of Conceiving the Countryside

Article excerpt


Rural areas in the Global North and South have recently undergone transformations associated with substantial economic and social restructuring (Halfacree, 2010), making rural localities more heterogeneous. New ways of conceiving the countryside attribute new roles, functions, and meanings to rural locations (Silva & Figueiredo, 2013). Not only addressed as spaces where agricultural activities predominate, but also increasingly considered spaces of consumption where individuals consume natural amenities, rural areas are being transformed into spaces of diversity (Figueiredo, 2013). The process of rural areas acquiring functions of consumption and protection is called "post-productivism" (Ilbery & Bowler, 1998; Mather, Hill, & Nijnik, 2006; Wilson, 2001), especially in the UK, and results in a differentiated countryside (Murdoch, Lowe, Ward, & Marsden, 2003) although productivism remains. Marsden (1999) suggests a "consumption countryside", consistent with the OECD's new rural paradigm, explicitly noting tourism provides alternative sources of income (OECD, 2006).

Rural tourism commodifies the semantics of rurality encompassing, "identifiable characteristics of rural areas and the cultural meaning attached to rural areas" (Sharpley & Sharpley, 1997, p. 20). What shapes the cultural meaning of rural areas is highly dynamic and repeatedly re-negotiated by various actors, mostly with urban viewpoints. Recently, a new popularity of the countryside is reached by mediatising it as a space for fulfilling desires and experiencing authenticity (Hall & Page, 2014). Rural space enables a flight to the "arcadian" while still providing stabilisation in a globalised and urbanised world, predominantly seeking the "rural idyll" (Halfacree, 2007). Although the tourism industry's marketing of rurality by "agritourism" is well reported (Ammirato & Felicetti, 2014; Gao, Barbieri, & Valdivia, 2014; Srisomyong & Meyer, 2015; Wright & Alexis, 2014), alternative notions of rurality are sparsely considered. This article discusses, from a supply perspective, how innovative tourist entrepreneurs commodify notions of ruralities using the Bavarian Forest, a tourist destination in South Eastern Germany, as a case example to demonstrate how implementation of ruralities in tourist enterprises embodies the post-productivism paradigm and expand countryside consumption research beyond the UK (Almstedt, 2013).

Literature review & theory

Productivism, post-productivism and a multifunctional countryside

Since the 1990s, various transitions in rural areas in the Global North can be observed. Tertiarisation (i.e. the growth of the service sector in the rural hinterland) resulted in a restructuring of production and re-composition of society. Introduction of the service sector into rural areas re-casted rural spaces, changed local power structures (Marsden & Flynn, 1993) and created a new era of agricultural production (Woods, 2011). Addressed as "post-productivism", agricultural activities now encompass more diverse economic activities and attitudes towards land use (Bergstrom, 2002) as agricultural production shifts to accommodate demands for amenities, ecosystem services and cultural landscape preservation (McCarthy, 2005; Wilson & Rigg, 2003). With non-agricultural land use, and resources to supplement income, observable (Almstedt, 2013), the new rural paradigm, set up by the OECD (2006), also focuses on rural amenities (i.e. natural resources) and highlights tourism as a key issue of economic activity in rural areas. Increasing competitiveness of rural areas by investments, instead of subsidies, are thus argued as requiring fostering through the diversification of rural economies (OECD, 2006).

Ongoing conceptual debate about post-productivism paradigm application in rural studies continues to lack empirical evidence and be limited to the UK contexts. Although Wilson (2005) explores whether post-productivism is applicable in the EU or Germany, various parameters framing rural development in light of globalisation, such as critiques of industrialised agriculture and social and economic transformations, are significant for many but not all EU countries. …

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