Research of the RSO Group

Mission and identity

The research programme of the Rural Sociology Group focuses on the complex whole of transformation processes in rural and metropolitan regions and in the food supply chain. In this, specific attention is paid to the different levels (from local to supra-national) at which these transformation processes are shaped and to the different (rural and urban) actors and institutions involved. The Rural Sociology Group studies and analyses these transformation processes from an interpretative/constructivist and predominantly micro-sociological perspective, using different qualitative and quantitative research methods. A common denominator in empirical research, analysis and theoretical development is the focus on differential dynamics and processes of institutionalisation. Research projects of the Rural Sociology Group are often of a multi- or inter-disciplinary nature, embody an international and comparative dimension and are, in many cases, carried out in close collaboration with (organisations of) stakeholders.
Our research policy, which reflects our identity, can be characterized as follows:

  1. A combination of theoretically inspired empirical research and empirically grounded theory building.
  2. A comparative research approach, with the aim of understanding both the contextual and the more general factors exerting influence on rural and regional development practices and processes.
  3. An emphasis on dynamics, particularly linking the present to the past, as contemporary phenomena (and their robustness or fragility) can only be understood by tracing their development over the course of time.
  4. The threefold relevance of our research programme: it should contribute to the scientific development of our field and our scientific discipline(s), it should be relevant to rural and regional policy and it should provide support for people and organizations whose day-to-day work is to implement rural and regional development.

Changing focus

Since the 1990s the research programme of the Rural Sociology Group aimed to explore, describe and analyse the diversity, dynamics, impact and potentials of agricultural and rural development practices in Europe by means of a multidisciplinary comparative approach. In recent years the Rural Sociology Group is gradually changing its focus from agrarian based rural development to rural and regional development in a broader sense, including non-agricultural issues and actors.

This change was inspired by a combination of a) new theoretical interests and emerging themes in the social sciences, and b) changes in the socio-political context of our research domain. Relevant new theoretical interests and emerging sociological themes are: i) a resurgence of interest in the region (with specific attention for ‘regions of knowledge’ / ‘learning regions’), ii) socio-economic inequalities and socio-spatial stratification, iii) urban-rural relations and interactions, iv) social movements (with specific attention for regionalisation as a countertendency), v) social capital, and vi) food as an integrated domain (linking food to public concerns such as public health, environmental quality, employment, social inclusion and quality of life). Regarding the socio-political context the following changes are highly relevant: i) the regionalization of rural policies in Europe, ii) the evanescence of the urban-rural distinction in contemporary Western societies and the associated transition from rural to regional development policies, and iii) the growing involvement of cities and metropolitan regions in the development and implementation of food and rural development policies (with specific attention for food-related health, social and environmental problems).