A broad approach to the study of rural change
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis contributes to the growing debate within rural geography as to the role of broader social theory. The debate centres upon the need for a broader, more structural approach to the analysis of rural change. An increasing number of geographers are campaigning for this perspective as it enables researchers to explore the wider processes within society and to develop an understanding of how communities are tied together, in both a social and an economic sense. Traditional, applied research has not provided a high degree of insight into the forces at work within rural society. The tendency has been to examine the changes in land use and settlement in isolation, rather than setting them within a broader framework. The majority of this thesis will be used to outline the argument for a broader research perspective within rural geography. It will look at why a broader context is important and how this approach can contribute to our understanding of societal change. The major reason for incorporating a broader perspective into rural analysis is to develop a better understanding of the whole environment in which farmers, business leaders, and households operate. It enables geographers to explore the political pressures on rural communities, as well as the socio-economic conditions within each region. This insight is critical for understanding the direction of rural activity, and for identifying the trade-offs that decision makers are compelled to make. In particular, it helps to clarify the role played by national and international conditions in the rural community. It sheds light on how changing international commodity markets effect farm behaviour and how modifications in national planning policy influence the pattern of new development. A broader perspective is also important for studying the class and power relations within society. It enables geographers to identify which classes dominate the political process and control access to resources, and why. The thesis will also be used to demonstrate that a broader research approach can be brought into rural geography without sacrificing the essential elements of the discipline, principally the traditional focus on ‘place’ and ‘spatial diversity’. This point is highlighted in a detailed case study of Canterbury. The study shows how general and are specific trends can be analysed to create a comprensive picture of the Canterbury economy and its development over time. This is a critical issue, as one of the major reservations geographers have had about broader structural approaches is their tendency to eschew local conditions. If geographers can be shown that it is possible to retain a local perspective alongside a structural approach, then there should be an increased willingness to accept the necessity for a broader perspective on rural change.