19th Annual Colloquium of the International Geographical Union Commission, August 1-7, 2011

19th Annual Colloquium of the International Geographical Union Commission on the Sustainability of Rural Systems
Le 19ième colloque de la commission « Le développement durable et les systèmes ruraux » de l'Union Géographique Internationale

National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland, 1-7 August 2011
The Sustainability of Rural Systems: Local and Global Challenges and Opportunities

Note:  Please note spaces on the excursions are limited and have been allocated to all who have an abstract submitted and accepted by April 11, 2011.

Organising Chair: Dr Mary Cawley, mary.cawley@nuigalway.ie 

The title of the 19th Annual Colloquium of the International Geographical Union Commission on the Sustainability of Rural Systems (CSRS) arises from broad concerns of the Commission and from the opportunity that Ireland offers to reflect on particular aspects of these concerns. Papers are invited under six broad themes, listed under colloquium themes.

Local and Global
Globalisation is a defining feature of recent decades. Places at great distances from each other throughout the world are linked together through flows of people, ideas, goods and investment, facilitated by advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) and in transport systems. Many contemporary environmental problems are also global in scale and require global solutions. Inter-global connectivity is a characteristic feature of the contemporary age, but the impacts of globalisation find expression in particular places. The local remains important as a context for the working out of impacts and processes associated with globalisation. The local is also recognised as being of increased significance per se in a post-modern world where people seek alternatives to mass-produced cultures, foods, goods and experiences. Local places, cultures, economies and societies are imbued with perceived values that serve to attract migrants and tourists to more remote areas in both developed and developing countries. Social, economic and cultural processes of change in particular places are also not exclusively the product of global influences; local people continue to have influence or agency in moulding change locally.

Globalisation offers both opportunities and challenges to rural societies. The opportunities include improved access to information and the creation of employment based on new technologies at greater distances from major centres of economic activity. Outmigration may be stemmed and immigration generated. The physical isolation of many rural areas is also now offset by improved transport systems. The promotion of places and their products is facilitated by ICTs and, in the process, new markets are accessed for goods, tourists are attracted and employment is generated. In some instances, economic growth may outstrip the available supply of labour and workers are recruited or move over great distances to work in agriculture and other rural economic activities.

Globalisation also presents challenges to rural places. Improved technologies may provide new employment opportunities in back-office service centres but they also bring increased competition with local products through the potential for on-line purchasing. Advances in ICTs also facilitate the movement of investment capital to cheaper cost locations in quest of profits and short cycles of employment creation, followed by decline, may become established. The flows of information that take place through new communication technologies, associated with globalisation, can have negative effects for local cultures and traditions and for indigenous languages. Not all rural areas and people take part in modernisation as discussed here to the same extent; some have become more isolated because of their location or resource endowment or a combination of the two. In lagging areas, outmigration and ageing continue and residents may have to contend with declining standards of living.

The Colloquium in Ireland 
The Colloquium provides an opportunity to reflect on the sustainability of contemporary rural social systems with reference to both the challenges and the opportunities that currently arise from local and global processes of change. Ireland forms an appropriate context in which to conduct such reflection. It is a small open economy which is closely linked into broader global systems through its exports of agricultural products, manufactures and services, through both inward and outward migration, tourist flows and information exchange. It experienced one of the highest rates of GDP growth of OECD member status during the years from 1998 until 2008 after which the economy went into severe recession. Many rural areas also experienced significant immigration of workers, commuters and retirees who were attracted by employment opportunities and the ambience of rural social and environmental living conditions but who were also pushed out of urban areas by increasing house prices. Growing concerns relating to the need to protect the quality of the rural environment also found expression in Ireland during the 1990s, as evidenced in the introduction of measures to offset the negative impacts of over-intensive land use during the previous decade.

Many challenges arise for the rural economy and social systems in Ireland from recessionary trends nationally and from increased exposure to macro-economic forces at a global level. The economy of rural areas has been affected negatively by international agricultural market changes, which have been compounded by the impacts of restructuring associated with on-going reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Rural unemployment has increased as both farm and non-farm economic opportunities have declined. Many small towns and villages are characterised by unfinished and unoccupied housing estates as a legacy from the period of over-development during the 2000s. There are also on-going problems relating to rural living conditions and access to services among older and less well off households.

The field excursions will include examples of challenges to the sustainability of rural systems and successful responses to those challenges.