Terra Nullius: What is going on in the rural world?
How can we understand the complexity of the contemporary rural world, and its entanglements with the urban? The Rural transformations in the new century research group is pleased to present our new blog.
In the 1990s, scholars had declared the death of “the peasant” as a useful analytical category, but the Zapatista movement made peasant issues such as land visible again. Photo: matilde.m.s
Some days ago, I watched a documentary in which some footage from the Zapatista up-rise on January 1st, 1994 was shown. The Zapatista movement became known to the world the same day as the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA) entered into force. For Mexico and for the world, perhaps, 1994 was a watershed year.
At the same time as some scholars had declared the death of “the peasant” as a useful analytical category, a group of poor Maya indios emerged from the margins of Mexico to remind us that issues related to, among other things, land, were painfully alive. The Zapatista movement attracted a lot of attention and it soon became part of a global movement in which imaginaries and desires for “another world” met. However, while peasant and indigenous questions were rendered visible, the material conditions of most Mexicans have not improved, less so for those living in rural societies.
For many people, the understanding of what is rural is primarily based on lived experiences rather than on numbers of people or buildings or lines on a map.
The 1990s also saw a surge of foreign investments in mining, oil, renewable energy and biofuels across the world. The rise of the East, particularly China and India, became entangled in a renewed hunger for raw materials. The economic crisis a decade later brought new forms of financial investments on food production. The climate crisis has expanded the frontier of investments in renewable energy, from hydropower to agrofuels to forest conservation. All these interrelated crises are shaping the lives and territories of millions of people around the world.
How to describe the contemporary rural and urban?
What we are witnessing is perhaps an exacerbation and convergence of various paths of socio-environmental relations that started centuries ago. Some have dubbed it the Anthropocene, the Plantationocene, the Capitalocene, and the Technocene. All these are intellectual efforts to describe and explain the state of the contemporary world in which fossil fuel energy with all its destructive force, is linked to almost all spheres of our lives.
While minerals, oil, “green energy” and food continue to be provided under highly exploitative socioecological relations in particular places of the world, the UN reminds us that 55 percent of the world´s population now live in cities. Does this mean that rural areas and rural societies are disappearing?
Rural-urban integration rather than separation
The debate of what constitutes “the rural” has been going on for years. Using statistics, as the UN does, is fraught with problems because such numbers are gathered from a myriad of definitions used by different countries of what constitutes urban areas. For many people, the understanding of what is rural is primarily based on lived experiences rather than on numbers of people or buildings or lines on a map.
The climate crisis has expanded the frontier of investments in renewable energy, from hydropower to agrofuels to forest conservation. All these interrelated crises are shaping the lives and territories of millions of people around the world.
But more importantly, the spatial fuzziness of human settlement patterns and the complexity of contemporary rural-urban entanglements indicate that it might be useful to think about the urban-rural as a space of integration rather than of separation. Such integration is, however, highly uneven, contested and frequently violent.
Presenting our new blog
So what is going on in the rural world? The Rural transformations in the new century research group is pleased to present our blog.
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