4. Bridging gaps between rural imageries, and the “grim reality”

As noted by Woods (2005: 11), consistent with Halfacree’s (1993) essay on defining the rural space, there is a growing consensus that “an area does not become ‘rural’ because of its economy or population density or other structural characteristics ― but because the people who live there or use it think of it as being ‘rural’”. This statement speaks to the pivotal importance given to representations, imageries and perceptions for understanding how rural systems work, especially in a society highly influenced by mass media. For instance, it has been repeatedly shown that suburbanisation, peri-urbanisation and/or counter-urbanisation as relevant socio-demographic processes experienced in rural areas across the world and which are commonly based on different types of rural idylls. However, often the “grim reality” contradicts these rural idylls and newcomers feel dissatisfied and even enter in conflict with previous rural residents.

Thus, quite frequently the material and immaterial realities do not match, causing a gap that can compromise rural sustainability. There are several cases in point, such as studies developed in Latin America and Africa through the lens of “conservation refugees” perspective as coined by Dowie (2009) which are particularly illustrative. This research has repeatedly observed a pattern by which rural communities consisting of native peoples or poor farmers are expelled because of the triumph of particular biocentric and urban-based ideologies that are converted into mainstream planning and conservation practices. In this sense, the idea of rurality as untouched nature frames the countryside, even if the countryside in itself is not (or has never been) pristine (Zimmerer, 2000). This is evident in very distant countries such as Brazil (Irving et al., 2013) and Spain (Ojeda et al., 2006).

This thematic session welcomes contributions around these questions:

> What are the planning and political implications of the rural idyll?

> How do representations, imageries, imaginations and perceptions of the rural contradict the “grim reality”?

> How can intangible, immaterial and tangible, material sides of rural systems be reconciled? To what extent can the concept of landscape be useful in this reconciliation?

> How can we bridge the gap between urban and rural representations of the rural?

> How can we bridge the gap between the rural understood as farming (productive) space, on the one hand, and as a pristine, natural environment, on the other?