Defining Rurality

Posted on January 6, 2017


Back in October my colleague Ben Lewis went to the CHAT (Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory) conference on the main island of the Orkneys and filmed the conference. Here are some of those videos from the first session:


Paul Graves‐Brown
University College London

When we bought our house in Llwynhendy, Llanelli, the estate agent’s particulars described its location as “semi‐rural”. In fact I was no stranger to such a locale; growing up in High Barnet, in North London, we were 5 minutes from open countryside or the Northern Line. Without the urban, there can be no concept of the rural, and their boundary zones articulate what “rural” actually means in a contemporary context. In this paper I want to suggest that such places constitute something similar to what biogeographers call an ecotone – a boundary or frontier between two biomes. In ecological terms ecotones are often characterised by their species richness, but is the urban‐rural ecotone more of a hostile frontier?
My own experience offers two conveniently salient examples. The boundaries of London have been fossilised by the Green Belt since 1947; an ecotone where any action or fluidity has largely been precluded by legislation. By contrast, the landscape of south west Wales displays much more dynamic boundaries, in which the urban and industrial has colonised the rural but, as often as not, receded, leaving a space of rural recolonisation. But equally where housing has had a great deal more freedom to impinge on the rural landscape.
Perhaps, then, the rural is a more fluid concept than we might think?
Archaeology of Environmental Injustice

Sarah E. Cowie
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Reno.

The relationships between biopolitics and processes of capitalism and industrialization have come under increasing scrutiny by activists in the environmental justice movement. Modern and historic societies demonstrate marked environmental discrimination, particularly against racialized groups and working‐class communities. This has occurred in both rural and urban contexts, as well as landscapes that transition from rural to urban and vice versa, and environmental injustice has often accompanied those transitions. Discriminatory practices resulted in the disempowerment of marginalized populations, loss of land, forcible movement of communities, contamination of natural resources, and sickening of human populations. While environmental injustice has been explored through ethnographic research in recent times and through historical anthropology, few archaeological studies have addressed this type of discrimination. This paper explores environmental injustice from an archaeological perspective, with particular attention to a case study of a 19th‐century company town. There, working class residents who were mostly foreign‐born experienced environmental discrimination in the form of an industrial waste dump known as Slag Beach, which was located adjacent to and within their neighborhood. The paper develops a framework of theory and method for exploring environmental injustice through an archaeological lens, and offers suggestions for potential applications.
Is the Lake District a rural area?

Sarah May
University College London.

How do we know if a place is rural or urban? Of course there are various legal definitions and most people have a common sense division in their minds. According to either of these, the Lake District of northern England is clearly rural. But look closer and there are discrepancies. The property market has a substantial speculative element, so that the value of the land has been separated from what it can be used for. The drainage is closely linked to nearby urban requirements ‐ Thirlmere having been established as a reservoir for Manchester in 1984. Contrary to romantic notions of the freedom of rural landscapes, the Lakes are controlled by increasingly byzantine systems of control. The ‘Western Lakes’ or ‘Energy coast’ is dominated by the complex nuclear site of Sellafield and associated industries. So what is the experience of rurality in the Lakes, and how is it different for residents and tourists? Are there different temporalities associated with the rural? In this paper I will focus on the future making practice of this area and examine how concepts of rural and urban underpin those practices.

Walking backwards: psychogeographical approaches to heritage

Sonia Overall
Creative & Professional Writing, Canterbury Christ Church University.

Since its Situationist origins in Paris, psychogeography has been considered a primarily urban pursuit. But psychogeographical approaches can easily be extended to walking in rural and semi‐rural areas, where constraints and controls on pedestrian access abound. In this paper I will discuss how psychogeographical practices can be adapted to enhance and alter our experience of rural place, and in particular, sites of historical interest. I will explore how the Situationist‐inspired movements Experimental Tourism (Joel Henry), Mythogeography and Counter‐ Tourism (Phil Smith) react against the packaging of heritage sites and the sanitising effects of the heritage industry.

As a ‘lay’ enthusiast, outside the archaeological community, I am keen to explore what creative interpretation can bring to the experience of heritage sites. How readily can visitors apply the advice of alternative site guides, such as Wrights & Sites A Mis‐Guide to anywhere (Hodge et al. 2006) and Counter‐Tourism: a handbook (Smith 2012)? How can one look beyond prescribed readings of heritage sites without rejecting expert knowledge?

In light of these issues, I will discuss how I am currently developing my own ‘attentive walking’ practise‐based research into heritage projects in Kent, including work with English Heritage sites and volunteers.

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