Transnational Theory Building for Researching the Global Countryside: Perspectives from Taiwan and the UK

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University


This network will bring together rural social science researchers from Taiwan and the UK in an innovative project to explore the prospect of developing 'transnational theory' that can advance understanding of the global, national and regional dynamics that are reshaping rural societies and economies around the world. By 'transnational theory' we mean a framework of ideas for analysing and understanding contemporary rural society that is not biased towards any one cultural or territorial context, but is open to multiple contributions and influences grounded in diverse geographical settings. The proposal responds to an emerging critique of the prevalence of Anglophone concepts and western theoretical models in international rural social science, and to calls for the development of a more inclusive and cosmopolitan rural studies that is better equipped to engage with the inter-connected yet hybrid and heterogenous character of the contemporary global countryside.

The focus on Taiwan and the UK is envisaged as an experimental pilot that can explore the possibilities for 'transnational theory building' and establish principles for wider application; but is also an appropriate pairing for the initiative, reflecting the long-standing influence of British rural studies in shaping research approaches in the field as well as the growing rural research community in Taiwan that is increasingly engaged in international networks, but is moving to a more critical stance on the translation and application of western concepts. Significantly, therefore, the exchange of ideas in the project must be two-way, involving consideration of how theoretical perspectives and concepts rooted in Taiwanese culture and society might provide new insights into social and economic dynamics in the British countryside as well as vice versa. By seeking to expand capacity for academic analysis and understanding of contemporary rural society in this way, the project consequently also aims to contribute to informing new policy and practical applications to address societal challenges facing rural areas in both countries, especially around issues of migration, food systems and rural politics and governance. The network will achieve these aims through a programme of online and in-person activities focused on discussing and comparing the perspectives of British and Taiwanese participants on selected case studies informed by targeted fieldwork and leading to the formulation of 'transnational theory' and collaborative outputs.


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Wang C (2023) Planetary rural geographies in Dialogues in Human Geography

Description Activities in this on-going networking grant have to date produced the following key findings:

1) Rural areas in Taiwan and the UK are both affected by global trends and challenges, including for example, agricultural restructuring, migration, demographic ageing, soil health and climate change, and superficially parallel developments can be observed in both contexts, including for instance the expansion of organic farming, 'back-to-the-land' migration of 'new farmers', increasing reliance on community action, and resource conflicts. However, the mechanics of these processes, the contributions to rural place-making, and their societal and economic impacts, are shaped by cultural factors that are not adequately captured by transplanted 'western' concepts and theories. Examples include the importance of 'guanxi', or reciprocal kinship and community relations, to social action and the restructuring of rural communities; and the influence of Buddhist faith on the adoption of organic farming methods. Alternative concepts and perspectives need to be drawn from Chinese sociology and philosophy, and from empirical geographic research in Asia, for a fuller understanding.

2) Several concepts and perspectives developed in an Asian cultural and intellectual tradition have potential to provide insights for analysis of social and economic change in rural Britain. In particular, the concept of 'guanxi' has potential to illuminate dynamics of kinship, reciprocity, trust and knowledge in British rural community development, augmenting 'western' concepts such as social capital.

3) The asymmetrical influence of western and eastern philosophy and theoretical traditions in international rural studies is shaped by mis-assumptions around language and inequalities in access to publishing and other scientific networks and instruments. In particular, transnational theory-building in rural studies needs to engage with the non-congruent and pluralist meanings of 'rurality' in different languages and the insights that can be gained by exploring the linguistic faults in definitions and classifications.

4) A potential framework for transnational theory-building in rural studies may be afforded by focusing on planetary rural geographies, recognizing the 'more-than-human' and globally interconnected constitution of rural places and shared global social and environmental challenges including climate change and declining soil health, but also arguing for inclusive responses that embrace cultural pluralism.
Exploitation Route The emerging outcomes of the networking grant have potential to support transnational theory-building within international rural studies, both by the network participants and by wider researchers, and to encourage and inform transnational theory-building in broader fields. The concept of planetary rural geographies in itself has potential for adoption in wider research addressing key societal and environmental challenges. Whilst initial uptake in both respects is anticipated to be by academic researchers, further research on these topics and the elaboration of transnational theories has potential to impact on strategies and practices for rural development and combatting environmental change. Ongoing actions in the network to facilitate these outcomes include (i) preparation of a themed section of an international journal on transnational theory-building in rural studies; (ii) submission of a position paper on planetary rural geographies, currently under review by an international journal; (iii) organization of a session on planetary rural geographies at the Royal Geographical Society Conference in August 2023, including papers from the beyond the network participants and covering wider geographical contexts, and a planned session on transnational theory-building in rural studies at an international conference in 2024.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections