9th Conference of the "Rural Space & Spatial Design" network, 9-11 October 2019


Summary and Aims


Having dealt with energy transition in 2015 (Coste, et al., 2018) and economic transition in 2017, the 2019 conference for the ERPS (Espace rural et projet spatial - Rural Space & Spatial Design) network will further pursue these avenues of thought by examining the new forms of action and democracy at work in rural territories. The next conference will therefore call for disciplinary, local and expert knowledge founded on praxis, enabling, through the prism of transition, an examination of the modes of action and the political visions associated with the various different levels and aims of spatial design.

Whilst contemporary urbanisation has a marked impact on the material and ecological aspect of territories, it is also disrupting the societies living in them, dramatically reducing (and often completely stripping them of) their capacity for self-determination, i.e. their ability to interact with the environment and transform it in a self-sustaining manner (Sassen, 2014). Even more so than in the cities, which have often been a breeding ground for resistance, these processes of dispossession have had a profound impact on rural territories, affected by sweeping changes to their economies. So-called “popular” knowledge and skills have been diminished and delegitimised (Darré, 2006; Salmona, 1994)1 by the hyper-technification of the environment and the encroaching power of science, expanding the gulf between the political sphere and that of everyday life and gradually stripping local populations of their capacity for action, particularly collective action.Nevertheless, outside of these “broader trends”, a myriad of smaller scale initiatives bring into question the spheres of public action, the relevance of territorial divisions and related expertise.

We consider such initiatives to be part of a transition process, as defined by philosopher Pascal Chabot (2015), namely “a way of understanding and bringing about change”. In terms of the environment, the idea of a complete break with the past now seems impossible: contemporary environmental politics has itself abandoned the “lost paradise” illusion underpinning the idea of revolution (Hache, 2012); the only option now seems to be adaptation to climate change2 , coming to a forced compromise with the effects of society’s past choices. In what kind of philosophy of action does this evolution result, in the field of spatial design? Moreover, a kind of “collective narrative” seems to be springing, bottom-up, from these initiatives at grassroots level, through the invention of new forms of production and consumption based on conviviality, solidarity and self-sustainability (Becattini, 2015). From this are emerging several forms of reterritorialisation, reviving issues of community and the principle of subsidiarity, in which decision-making and responsibility for any action rests with the most directly affected group.

What particularly interests us in this collective narrative is the recurring question of direct democracy and methods of self-management, as evidenced for example by the resurgence of such terms as “sovereignty” and “autonomy” with regard to food, technology, energy etc. Faced with what is often seen as top-down public action, often subject to the pressures of powerful private interests (connected to the financialisation of the global economy) and led by so-called “common interest”, these initiatives lay claim to the existence and legitimacy of a we: real individuals with existences, knowledge, questions and expectations translated into action (Dardot & Laval, 2014). Similarly in France, as abroad, the major citizen-led struggles against the forces of territorial appropriation -from the occupation of Larzac in the 1970s, to that of Notre-Dame-des-Landes- are, to a certain extent, observatories of ways that a we might function, making such movements indissociable from the territories in which they arise. All of these “ruralities in action”, through this double aspect of we and with, bring forth new forms of territorialities and the reappropriation of a capacity for action by the inhabitants-users-citizens (Bassand, 2001).


1 These works show that issues of the relationship to knowledge more broadly imply an economic and symbolic power relationship. On this subject, see also: P. Bourdieu, 2004. “Racisme de l’intelligence”, Le Monde Diplomatique, April 2004. 2 The idea of “adaptation” inherently implies a sense of continuity where it is doubtless more of a breaking point presenting an opportunity (kairos) for the co-evolution of human societies and their environments. Cf. A. Gras, 2014. “Le sens de l’histoire en question”, Communications, 95, p.31-40.

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