The research approach of the RSO can be summarized in six key points:
1. People’s everyday realities. Our research takes as its main starting point people in their everyday world and their daily practices. This is also how we address questions about technology and nature by focusing on technology-in-use and people’s everyday interaction with nature and environmental change.
2. Dynamics. Our research links the present to the past, as the robustness and fragility of everyday practices and the political-economic environments of people’s life-worlds today can only be understood by tracing their development through the course of time. This enables us, for example, to explore the emergence of path dependencies, such as in/formal rules and regulations, vested interests, and the lock-in effects of long-term financial investments. We seek to understand connectivities and disjunctures within society and their impact on people’s lived experience.
3. Meaningful diversity. Our interest here is not so much in diversity itself as in the ways in which this emerges as the product of creative agency, which is what makes the diversity meaningful. This implies a concern with human actors in their socio-material or socio-natural environments and a focus on how and why the actions of people, individually and collectively, create different patterns of development.
4. Comparative research. Comparing practices and processes is crucial to our understanding of the dynamics of relationships, continuities, and change. Comparisons are made to discern contingent and necessary relationships and to refine our understanding of contradictions, inequalities, and unevenness in development. Case studies and qualitative research tends to form the core of our comparative work.
5. A relational approach. We conceptualize the rural as the product of interactions and relations. This allows us to understand the making of distinct places in terms of relations of power, abilities to mobilize resources, and the ideas and ideals of the actors involved. A primary challenge of a rural sociology for the twenty-first century is to understand how the rurality and its diversity of meanings and functions are the contextual outcome of social relations and meaningful actions, past and present.
6. Being critical and engaged. A final key feature is that we critically analyze and reflect on the ‘conventional’ and ‘mainstream’ (e.g. agricultural modernization) and thereby attempt to defamiliarize and ‘deconstruct’ the familiar and question the taken-for-granted. This supports our contribution to the field through an exploration of new practices and examination of a range of credible options and alternatives. This ‘engaged’ or ‘activist’ approach to research shows the potential of practices that are often locked away, as it were, discredited and rendered worthless. ag