Multifunctionality is a central concept in rural studies across the world. Although originally somewhat restricted to the plurality of functions being provided by agriculture (Mather et al., 2006; Maier and Shobayashi, 2001), it has been increasingly applied to rural areas embracing all forms of rural activities in transition (Wilson, 2007; Holmes, 2006). Initially the term multifunctionality described the particular evolution experienced in the European Union (EU) context with regard to managing the gigantic Common Agricultural Policy over the last two decades. But analysis of this framework by Holmes (2006) in Australia, and in Brazil by Hoefle (2014), shows how it has been transferred to heterogeneous contexts both in the Global South and the Global North, leading towards contrasting scenarios. Currently, multifunctionality is a construct widely applied to the notion of consumption and commodification of the rural space, but also to the development of tourism and leisure activities and the emergence of environmental protection concerns, devices and policies.
However, multifunctionality has received strong criticism by a wide range of commentators. In the EU, for instance, tourism has been seen as a panacea for rural development under the multifunctional approach, including a model of farm tourism (agri-tourism) where tourism is seen to co-exist and enrich the farm enterprise. Its success remains in question, given that there is a substitution of agricultural activities by tourism. In some cases this includes mass tourism which is not particularly sensitive to the uniqueness of rural environments. See for instance, contributions by Potočnik-Slavič and Schmitz (2013). Similar conclusions arise in Brazil with regard to the conflict between fishing and tourism in coastal rural communities (Hoefle, 2014). As an overall reflection, Woods (2007) has questioned how multifunctionality is used as a smoke screen to conceal public policies which remain highly oriented to productivist farming in the EU.
This thematic session welcomes contributions around these questions:
> What are the connections between different activities in rural systems across the world under the multifunctionality umbrella? Are they compatible and/or do contradictions emerge?
> How can we bridge the gaps between the different rural activities, functions and values under the multifunctionality umbrella?
> What is the real contribution of tourism (in its various forms) to sustainable rural development?
> Is multifunctionality an academic, political and technocratic construction, or can it be observed and ratified in particular rural systems? What is its usefulness?