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12. Rural Infrastructure Utopias. Concepts, Projects and Contestations

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
13:45 - 15:15


Marie Tellier
PhD Candidate (1st year), Laboratoire d'études rurales
Lyon 2 University

The impact of an agricultural innovation on rural and social infrastructures - the case of Irish farmhouse cheeses.


The sector of Irish farmhouse cheeses appeared and grew from the 1970’s onwards, while it was not part of the country’s food culture. As the production increased, farmhouse cheese became an emerging icon of the contemporary Irish artisan and alternative foods industry. This product of the neo-rural and sociological transformations of the Seventies, was created thanks to actors with no agricultural backgrounds. This appearance led to the transformation of places of production, and was driven by the pursuit of an alternative and idealistic lifestyle. Those specific actors still play a key role in the development of farmhouse cheeses. Today, they continue to renew the sector but also impact rural areas - by transforming the social and spatial organization in which infrastructures represent an important part. Based on my field research and as part of my PhD, my contribution would focus on two mains angles :
- The role of Irish farmhouse cheeses as a cultural and agricultural innovation, which is part of the agricultural 'alternative movement', in the development of local infrastructures and the enhancement of new rural and agricultural networks which value sustainability. This point aims to investigate the question of rural and social infrastructures, but also to question if alternative networks do represent a sustainable alternative to conventional farming.
- Whether Irish farmhouse cheeses - whose appearance and development are linked to the settlement of the neo-rural population - enable the realization of "rural utopias" and the establishment of alternative agricultural and food infrastructures.
Adnan Mirhanoğlu
KU Leuven

Water access struggles of smallholder farmers: Actors, institutions, and infrastructures


Smallholder farmers are key users of irrigation water and their equitable access to water is vital to sustain agriculture. Therefore, it is crucial to understand and explain how farmers get access to water, what are the conditions for equitable access, and what are the reasons for the (structural) inequalities in access to water. In this paper, I combine insights from both socio-technical and critical institutional approaches by analyzing the triangular relationship between institutions, actors, and infrastructures to better understand the reasons of inequalities in access to irrigation water. Through three ethnographic case studies conducted in Ağlasun, a rural town in the south-west of Turkey, I aim to explain “how and why actors, institutions, and infrastructures form a water governance system and why some actors can easily access water while some cannot”. I conceptualize irrigation systems as institutional, technical, natural, individual, and collective processes, ‘all at once’. I examine how institutions, infrastructures, and actors (co)shape access to water. First, my findings show that social distance to authorities, just like spatial distance to a water source, influences inequalities in access to water. Second, I show how actors, institutions, and material infrastructures are interdependent and are mutually shaped by the individual and collective agency. Third, I explain how the strategies of bottled-water companies to commodify and control water cause the dispossession of local farmers from the water sources they have used for centuries. The results of the three case studies underline the importance of institutional, technological, and social changes in irrigation systems.
Dr. Rakotoson Michel
Enseignant Chercheur
University of Toamasina

Mixed review of implementation of rural infrastructures in Madagascar


Located in the south-west of the Indian Ocean and belonging to the tropical countries of African mainland, Madagascar has been populated around 2000 B.C., and is inhabited by 27 million Malagasy people for its 587 000-km² total cover area. The population density is now estimated to 46 people/km². While the country is classified as one of the poorest country in the World and has a low GDP per capita of two dollars/day, considerable efforts for urban and rural infrastructures’ assistance have been undertaken by successive governments. Here, we mainly focus on the riddle of rural infrastructure implementation. Madagascar still lags way behind other neighboring African countries in terms of recorded rural infrastructures: access to drinking water rates 24%, sanitation is 12.3% and only 5% of rural households have access to electricity.
The agricultural sector employs 80% of the population, and provides the 25% of the GDP. As to ensure food self-sufficiency, consecutive governments, starting from the colonial era, has opted for small and large hydro-agricultural developments; which is an essential strategy to reach a rapid economic improvement.
However, observations reconsider these agricultural infrastructures, mostly associated with important dams, rarely to accomplish optimistic expectations at the start of projects. At some point of the project realization, unpredictable secondary negative processes might expand within the years of the construction. Thus, it is a statement of failure.

Session host

Paul Jutteau
University of Perpignan



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

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