Tracing, Traversing and Transgressing Borders in Rural Geography

Session Sponsored by the Rural Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG

Session organisers: Felipe Dr Felipe da Silva Machado, University of Plymouth and Martin Phillips, University of Leicester  

Borders, and associated notions such as of boundaries and borderlands, have long marked the identities, imaginings and practices of rural geography. The construction, deconstruction and repeated resurrection of borders between the urban and rural have, for instance, been a continuing preoccupation across divergent perspectives. As well as calls to eschew this bordering, either by explicitly ‘doing away’ with it (Hoggart 1991) or more implicitly via, for instance, adopting network rather than topographical perspectives or viewing the rural as having been subsumed within the dynamics of planetary urbanisation, a range of borderlands between the urban and the rural have been constructed and examined (e.g. rural-urban fringe, periurban, exurban, rurban). There have also been calls to recognise boundaries within the rural, via notions such as the ‘differentiated countryside’ and ‘multiple ruralities’, plus explorations of their intertwining with (re)-constructions of regional and national identities and boundaries, and also their transgression through processes of globalisation and formation of a range of ‘global countrysides’. Conversely, borders can be seen to have hardened and reconstituted, partly as a response to perceived threats posed by globalisation, with rural areas frequently figuring as heartlands of calls for the construction of protectionist borders, as well as locations whose character might be significantly impacted by restructured flows of commodities, capital and people produced by shifts in economic and governmental boundaries and borders. Brexit clearly represents one context where such issues have loomed large, but as Scoones et al. (2018) observe, they can be seen to be significant within many rural areas across the world.

As well as being a subject of study, borders have impacted on the conduct of rural geography. The concepts and practices of rural geographers have been found to be bound to a degree to national and linguistic borders (Gkartzios and Remoundou 2018; Argent 2019), and also by borders between the Global North and South (e.g. Wilson and Rigg 2003; Korf and Oughton 2006; Argent 2017; López-Morales 2018), or indeed between the Global North and the Global East (Phillips and Smith 2018). Questions have been raised about the desirability of transgressing such boundaries, including the degree to which travelling theories and practices reproduce and extend colonialising and neoliberal relations. Conversely, there have been recent calls for more transboundary research, including comparative work traversing not only international borders but which also seek to ‘talk back’ to the urban from the rural (Smith and Phillips 2018). There has also been continuing employment of inter- and trans-disciplinary modes of working that work in the borderlands between disciplines, arts, science and social science, and between academic and non-academic worlds.

Contributions to the session might address, but are not restricted to, one or more of the following themes:

  • the formation, deconstruction or reformulation of rural-urban boundaries and relations;
  • the dynamics of life and change in rural borderland spaces (e.g. within rural-urban fringe, peri-urban, exurban, rurban or post-rural spaces and places);
  • the significance of cross border flows and relations in transformations in rural spaces and places (e.g. international, interregional or urban to rural flows of products, capital, labour, ideas);
  • the significance of rurality in reconstituting national and international political identities and boundaries and the impacts of transformations of political/administrative border on rural areas, economies, land and people (e.g. the role of rurality in the constitution of Brexit and the impacts of Brexit of agriculture and the rural landscape);
  • bounded differences in the theory and practices of rural geography (e.g. the presence of cross-national differences, or differences between geographical and other disciplinary studies of rural areas/communities);
  • the significance of ’travelling’ theory and practice within rural geography, and the degree to which this reproduces, enhances or destabilises relations of colonialism, imperialism or neoliberalisation;
  • the significance, practices and/or challenges of ‘cross-boundary’ comparisons within the construction of rural geography;
  • the value of multi- and trans-disciplinary research to rural geography.