Appropriating rurals
Location C
Date and Time 9th December, 2008 at 10:30


Carolyn Morris (Massey University, Palmerston North)
Francesca Merlan (Australian National University)
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Short Abstract

This panel seeks papers that consider the linkages between rural change and the ways in which rural places and notions of rurality are mobilised in projects that emanate from, and resonate in, realms beyond the rural, and the social, cultural and political struggles that such processes generate.

Long Abstract

In many European and European-derived settler societies, high moral value has been attributed to the rural. Notions of the rural idyll have deep histories in such places, an enduring aspect of which is the idea that rurals are sites for the production of national goods of various kinds, economic and cultural. In recent decades many rural places have been significantly transformed, with, paradoxically, processes of agricultural intensification occurring in tandem with the reconstitution of the rural as both site and object of consumption. This denaturalisation of the relationship between the rural, the agrarian and the moral has opened up a space for the rural to be reimagined, with ownership of the rural (in a variety of senses from legal tenure through to representation) now contested. As a result of this, new possibilities for the (re)appropriation of the rural emerge.

This panel seeks papers that consider the linkages between rural change and the ways in which rural places and notions of rurality are mobilised in projects that emanate from, and resonate in, realms beyond the rural, and the social, cultural and political struggles that such processes generate. Though this panel originates from work in Western societies, we welcome relevant cases from other places.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Ambivalent middlemen: representations of the countryside among agricultural experts in western Poland

Author: Dong Ju Kim (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)

Short Abstract

This paper explores the role of agricultural experts and their interaction with farmers in Wielkopolska, western Poland, and highlights how agricultural knowledge can both support and undermine moral claims for the appropriation of rural production.


During the socialist era in Poland, the rural was always compared and contrasted with the progressive and revolution-leading industrial urban. The countryside represented ideological and material backwardness, although it represented a core element of national identity at the same time. Agricultural products figured in this relationship as key symbols in defining urban-rural relations. How has this relationship changed after market reforms and privatization? How is the rural defined within this new frame of reference?

In this paper, I plan to analyze the urban-rural relationship from the viewpoint of agricultural knowledge on fertilizers and soil elements with an emphasis on rural agricultural experts and their interactions with farmers. After socialism, the hitherto state-monopolized knowledge became institutionally dispersed into companies, state organizations, and private enterprises. By following these positional changes of experts in a private beetsugar factory, I will be able to shed light on how persisting conceptions of the rural are redefined, reinforced, and reproduced through the view of experts on the ground. On another level, the tension between experts and farmers will show how moral claims and negotiations in contracting agricultural products are interpreted differently based on variable understandings of credit, crop standards, and European policy. I will pay special attention to the language and rhetoric that frame these conversations between experts and farmers in public and private, and how these conversations inform practice on both sides. I hope to show that the performative maneuvering on both sides has the effect of reproducing the image of the rural in both material and symbolic ways.

Digging in: Disappearing villages in coal-affected communities in the Hunter Valley

Author: Linda Connor (University of Sydney)

Short Abstract

In the context of open-cut mining expansion in the Hunter Valley NSW and "disappearing villages", this paper explores the ways in which connections to the natural and built environment, as well as historical ties to localities, and moralities of development, are articulated and contested through residents’ and others’ discourses about changes to rural communities and landscape.


The term "village" is in frequent use in the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW, particularly in relation to threats to settlements from the large-scale expansion of open cut and underground coal mining operations. In the Singleton and Muswellbrook areas, an area of about 50 kms (more than 17% of the Valley floor), has already been mined since 1987. Bucolic landscapes of "brooks", "streams", "arable land", "whippies" and "commons" are disappearing into the "moonscape" of mine voids and "zones of affectation". Further expansion is being fuelled by unprecedented prices being achieved for coal exported from the Port of Newcastle. Exploration plans have been unveiled that will impinge on residential communities situated in prime agricultural areas previously not considered suitable for mining; and a large new mine has recently been approved in a bushland area known to be the home of number of endangered species of flora and fauna. In addition, residents living in areas already affected by mining are facing further expansion.This paper explores the ways in which connections to the natural and built environment, as well as historical ties to localities, and moralities of development, are articulated and contested through residents' and others' discourses about changes to rural communities and landscape.

Feral pig hunting and feral pig management in the wet tropics of north Queensland

Author: Carla Meurk (University of Queensland)

Short Abstract

I discuss the claims made by feral pig hunters about the desirabilities of hunting as a control method for feral pigs that is in keeping with their lives in the wet tropics of north Queensland, but sits in opposition to current management strategies, in a changing rural environment.


"the feral pig is one of Australia's most destructive environmental and agricultural pests. ... Some people's activities are also making things worse. Some hunters have even deliberately released piglets and young pigs into scrub in rural areas!" (EPA/QPWS website 2008)

Feral pigs are widespread in the wet tropics of north Queensland. However, agreement on and implementation of an effective long term feral pig management strategy remains elusive. My research set out to understand one aspect of this management "problem": pig hunters and their resistance to management strategies. Pig hunters have been held responsible for hunting on state land (hunting is illegal on all state owned land in Queensland), vandalism of pig traps, translocation, release of feral pigs, and other illegal acts judged by managers as undermining effective control. While resistant to managers, many hunters also actively attempt to legitimise their actions. One way in which they do this is by explicitly appealing to the moral, economic, and logistic desirabilities of hunting as a control method for feral pigs.

In this paper, I present this struggle over the management of feral pigs as an attempt, by urban voices, to appropriate the rural. I contextualise claims made by hunters of their right to hunt in opposition to the views of other local and extra-local actors who have succeeded in influencing feral pig management. Specifically, I explore the moral undesirability of hunting (and hunters) in this rural area which is undergoing change from primary production to an eco-based economy.

Barossa Dreaming: Food, Festivals and Fetishism in Rural Australia

Author: Adrian Peace (University of Adelaide)

Short Abstract

This paper examines how representations of food and wine constitute the Barossa Valley in South Australia as a site of tradition, authenticity and nostalgia for an idealized rural past.


It is difficult to imagine a rural region of Australia more thoroughly integrated into the world economy than the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Dominated by a handful of transnational corporations, the wine industry is as thoroughly incorporated into the hegemonic system of global commodity flows as any other part of the country. It is therefore somewhat paradoxical to find that images and representations of heritage, tradition and the authentic community figure pervasively in the intense commodification of the Barossa. In this paper, I detail the representational and discursive processes by which food and festivals are fetishized to constitute the Barossa Valley as a site of nostalgic dreaming. I argue that the advent of the Slow Food movement is the latest addition to these processes. But it is equally important to recognize what is strategically omitted from view.

Gifting the Self: the metro-rural idyll and ideal reflexive individuality

Author: Peter Howland (Massey University)

Short Abstract

Gifting is a crucial mechanism of social inclusion in kinship societies. By contrast, commodity exchange can be social alienating. However, the self-gifting of leisured consumption is an extraordinary experience of ideal reflexive individuality that contributes to reproducing the 'second modern'.


'I think I'll treat myself.' 'Go ahead, treat yourself.' 'This holiday is a treat to myself.'

These are familiar refrains that may be overheard in the cafés, craft shops, and vineyards of Martinborough - a popular weekend tourism destination for the new middle-classes of nearby Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. These narratives emphasis - personally and socially - notions of gifting the self (Howland 2008) and thus give insight into the calculated reflexive individuality of Martinborough's tourists. Specifically they highlight a reflexive awareness of the self as an object that may be subjected to self-assembly and development regimes. They also underscore an attentiveness to multiple, context-specific selves as evidenced by notions of reward or compensation of the 'working self' to the 'leisured self'. In addition, tourists routinely cast Martinborough as metro-rural idyll - an enchanted, performative setting of leisured consumption that draws upon pervasive notions of the vernacular rural idyll to provide a moral foundation for their urbane consumption activities, social distinction negotiations, and pursuit of ideal reflexive individuality.

Anthropological analysis of kinship-orientated societies often situates reciprocal gifting as the principal mode of economic exchange and vital to social integration and cohesion (Mauss 1972). By contrast, analysis of post-industrial societies often casts commodity, market-based exchange as primary and socially alienating (Carrier 1994). However, gifting the self clearly articulates the hegemonic ideologies and practices of ideal reflexive individuality and as such contributes to the reproduction of the dominant social structure of the 'second modern' (Beck 2002) - namely the institutionalisation of individualism.

Producing the Appropriated Rural: ni-Vanuatu Labour on Central Otago Vineyards

Authors: Carolyn Morris (Massey University, Palmerston North)
Rochelle-lee Bailey (University of Canterbury)

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork with ni-Vanuatu vineyard workers, we explore how “Central Otago” is produced as rural idyll. We see a double appropriation of the rural: the myth of non-alienated labour on vineyards is e sustained through the (temporary) alienation of the labour of ni-Vanuatu.


New World wine growing regions appropriate rural imagery in ways which mask the realities of producton and produce such locations as rural idylls. In such idylls productive labour is presented as unalienated: in reality wine production is highly capitalised and reliant on wage labour.

In recent decades the Central Otago region of New Zealand has become a prime site of wine production and consumption, with an expanding number of vineyards. However, the region is finding it increasingly difficult to produce wine and itself as wine region because of the shortage of viticultural labour.

To relieve rural labour shortages the Government introduced the Recognised Seasonal Employer Policy, under which over 200 rural labourers from Vanuatu worked on Central Otago vineyards for the 2007/2008 season. Ni-Vanuatu were understood as fit for viticultural labour because of their rural backgrounds and because their lack of recent opportunity for wage labour meant that they would not expect high wages. Ni-Vanuatu workers were attracted to the scheme by the opportunity to earn cash to pay school fees and for local development projects.

Based on fieldwork with ni-Vanuatu from Ambrym and with vineyard owners, this paper explores the ways in which "Central Otago" is produced. What we see is a double appropriation of the rural: ironically the myth of non-alienated labour on vineyards, a central element of the wine idyll, is only able to be sustained through the (temporary) alienation of the labour of ni-Vanuatu.

Rural Health - on whose terms?

Author: Kristin McBain (James Cook University)

Short Abstract

Who defines the 'rural' in rural health? How do they define it and for what purposes? This paper poses these questions based on the studies of a medical anthropologist living and working in a rural Australian mining town that is struggling to define itself.


Historically, rural populations have been defined in ways that are intimately tied to modes of production, population size, and geographic location. Often the idyllic picture of rural life, in contrast to the hectic pace of life in urbanized centers, has crept into definitions of rural identity held not only by rural residents, but also by those beyond the rural boundary. Within health and medical literature and pedagogy, the rural is most often defined in terms of deficit and universal rights: Rural populations traditionally have poorer health, especially in comparison to urban area populations, and the argument follows that rural people should have better access to services for their health and well being.

The question of who defines the "rural" in anthropological and rural health literature, how they define it and the purpose of such definitions is asked in this discussion paper. In Australia, there are competing scales utilized within health research to define where the "rural" is and how it is constructed. These communities are often placed as victims of political and economic forces that prevent their access to better health, due to a lack of funding for rural health development.

Beyond Appearances: Organicism and Mysticism in South German Rurality

Author: Francesca Merlan (Australian National University)

Short Abstract

In this paper I explore contrasts between regulatory relationships of farmers and others to landscape in South Germany, and mystical and organic practices and connections of people and land in the idiom of biodynamic agriculture.


In the south German region where I have done research in several farming villages and a medium-sized regional town, certain regulatory ideas about human relationship with landscape in the context of farming practice were widely shared by farmers and non-farmers alike. There is a sensitivity to `density' of settlement, and strong desire to preserve boundedness, homogeneity and categorial clarity of space. Though `inner' and `outer' domains of built village and outlying lands, Aussen- and Innenbereiche, are to be kept distinct, an organic link between them is realized partly through the legal, proprietorial and operational unity of each village farmhouse with its outlying lands; and reproduced as a unity through annual Church processions and objects, as well as messages delivered in sermons and Church functions.

Farmers are attentive to the appearance and neatness of their fields, but did not tend to express particular attachment to their lands as such. Rather a more general vein of emotive expression came to the fore in a minority of farmers who had a strong interest in the philosophy and practice of biodynamic agriculture, largely as espoused by Rudolf Steiner, and in experimental agricultural techniques based on biodynamic concepts. In this paper I explore views on farming and relationship to land and nature through this vein of mystical thought expressed by this minority, its relation to forms of Catholicism and spiritualism, and to the more widely shared regulatory spatial concepts described briefly above.

Appropriating Rurality for Military Subjectivities: New Zealand Servicemen in the 1991 Persian Gulf War

Author: Nina Harding (Massey University)

Short Abstract

This paper will examine how New Zealand military servicemen must appropriate rural character traits in order to successfully narrate soldier subjectivities.


In New Zealand the national subject is a rural subject. A significant facet of the construction of New Zealand nationhood on rural foundations was the opportunity provided by the Boer and World Wars for the previously isolated nation to display its qualities on the international stage; New Zealand was "good" at war, and this was attributed to the rural character of its soldiers. This rural national character, the "Anzac Spirit", is epitomised in farmer and World War Two hero Charles Upham, and has recently been perpetuated through discourses on Victoria Cross recipient Corporeal Willie Apiata. Through an analysis of interviews with 1991 Gulf War veterans, it will be shown that military servicemen now tell war stories that are more closely related to narratives of urban-type careers than to traditional discourses of the farmer temporarily leaving his fields in order to patriotically serve his homeland. Nevertheless, even men who do not have rural subjectivities or any investment in such must take on rural characteristics in order to successfully claim a military identity in New Zealand. This rurality may then be at odds with, or reside unacknowledged in, non-rural career narratives. We can understand this state of affairs through the recent shift from warmongering to peacekeeping in New Zealand international policy.