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26.1 'Left-Behind'-ness of Rural-peripheral Regions in Europe – New Wine in old Bottles?

5419.119 (Kapteynborg)
Tuesday, June 27, 2023
11:00 - 12:30


Prof. Michael Woods
Aberystwyth University

Spatial Justice and the Politics of Europe’s ‘Left-Behind’ Rural Regions


Peripheral and marginalized rural regions have been identified as key loci of support for disruptive rural political movements that have gained support across Europe over the last decade. The factors shaping this relationship, however, remain poorly understood, with research fragmented between different focal points, methods, theories, and explanations. This paper advances a novel conceptualization of spatial justice that it argues can provide a holistic framework for more integrated analysis of so-called ‘left-behind’ regions and their connections to disruptive politics. Building on the twin roots of spatial justice in the work of Lefebvre and of Marxist geographers, and developing recent efforts to extend spatial justice beyond the urban focus promoted by Soja and others into rural and regional contexts, the paper expands spatial justice as a multi-dimensional concept. In this spatial justice refers not only to disparities in the distribution of resources, but also perceived inequalities and injustices, and how these shape the ‘right to place’ of different groups. Spatial justice is hence qualitative as well as quantitative, and it is the qualitative dimension that is the key to understanding how material inequalities combine with the rhetorical construction of being ‘left-behind’ to feed populist discourse and fuel support for disruptive politics. Findings from the IMAJINE project will be drawn on to explore patterns of spatial (in)justice in rural Europe, their political consequences, and their potential future development, and an agenda for further research is outlined.
Dr. Tim Leibert
Senior Researcher
Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography

How policy deals with ‘Left behind places’ in Germany


Since the 2008 crisis, ‘Left behind places’ has become a prominent way to tag declining old industrial and rural regions in the global North. Although its definition and implications are poorly specified, the term is gaining popularity in political and policy debates. It is not yet clear, what ‘added value’ the term brings in comparison to more conventional terms used to describe geographical inequalities, such as lagging, low-income, peripheral, or poor regions. The related German term "Abgehängte Regionen" is widely used to specify the regions with below average economic performance, negative demographic trends as well as disconnect from essential infrastructures.
This paper concerns current policy approaches towards old industrial and rural areas. Using the example of the German Westpfalz region, the paper asks how the policy deals with conventional aspects of inequality (low income, unemployment, poor connectivity) as well as alleged elements of left-behindness, such as loss of belonging, political discontent, threatened identities and values.
We have established that these two groups appear in complex geographical patterns described as archipelago and patchwork, which allegedly makes the use of conventional centre-periphery approaches less relevant. Crucial aspects of local policies and strategies to tackle the challenges of ‘left behindness’ include the ‘framing’ and narrative of the local situation, local actor constellations as well as the room for manoeuvre in terms of budget and competencies.
Our paper is based on qualitative interviews with policy makers, representatives of local and district administrations, representatives of NGOs as well as an analysis of policy documents.
Mathilde Martin
Phd Student, Human Geography department
Lund University

Drawing the peri-urban revolution An ethnographic tale of the roundabout: production, encounter and place of the French periphery


If one were to represent the French periphery by a single entity, it would definitely be the roundabout. A common feature of its peri-urban landscape and development, the roundabout stands as the emblem of the periphery and the populations that constitute it, to such an extent that peripheral France came to be known during the 2018 Yellow Vests protests as the “France of roundabouts”. Unexpected, yet significant, was the protesters’ appropriation of such an informal site for expressing their discontent and, ultimately, a related experience of being left-behind. It is on these roundabouts protesters rallied over a common experience of left-behindness conditioned by living a life in the peri-urban peripheries. It is on these roundabouts protesters from various backgrounds assembled, where they shared and expressed a common perception of being outcasted to socio-economic and cultural margins, to the periphery of “places that matter”.

In this project, as the emblem of the protests, the roundabout is approached as a place that epitomize experiences of left-behindness and a shift in thinking the spatial practice of the “political” and the creation of community. As the locus of the peripheral condition, the roundabout turned into a lifeworld uniting its occupants finding a new centre of relationality, making place for a new identity and sense of belonging. Uniting the left-behind, the roundabout as place of the periphery is turned into a new centrality, a new “urban”, sketching the project of a “peri-urban revolution”.
Sebastian Amrhein
Research Associate
Radboud University | Rhine-waal University

Post-growth strategy or marketing trick? An analysis of the Cittaslow-concept exemplified by the case of Artà, Mallorca


In this contribution we examine Cittaslow as a concept developed in the context of the post-growth debate. Cittaslow emerged from the Slowfood-movement and consists of an international network of now 287 small towns (with a maximum of 50,000 inhabitants) in primarily rural areas. The idea is to plan spaces where 'the good life' is cultivated in such a way that they do not fall victim to growth thinking and a fast-paced life, but preserve their individuality, quality of life and tranquility.
The aim of this paper is to investigate to what extent members of the Cittaslow-network succeed in realizing these goals and can thus contribute to post-growth development. Based on a brief analysis of the Cittaslow-philosophy, we argue that it is a holistic concept that takes important issues of an post-growth economy (such as social sustainability, climate adaptation and a good work-life balance) for residents into account. However, at the same time ‘the good life' that Cittaslow strives for leaves much room for interpretation and might serve primarily the interests of a certain class of residents and visitors whose financial situation allows for such a lifestyle. Furthermore, awarding the Cittaslow-certificate might even add on to the attractiveness of a place for visitors and consequently generate further growth and tourism-caused problems for residents of the area. Using the example of Artà on the island of Mallorca (8,000 inhabitants), the paper examines the opportunities and risks involved. Based on the analysis recommendations for participants and the Cittaslow-network are derived.

Session host

Nadir Kinossian
Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography

Tim Leibert
Senior Researcher
Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography

Susann Schaefer
Research Associate
University of Jena



Contact for questions about abstracts or registration: groningen@congressbydesign.com 

Contact for questions about the content of the programme: ruralgeo2023@rug.nl