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“RURAL MATTERS – Meanings of the Rural in Portugal: Between Social Representations, Consumptions and Development Strategies” is a research project funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT reference: PTDC/CS-GEO/117967/2010) and by FEDER (POFC/QREN) (COMPETE reference: FCOMP-01-0124-FEDER-019872).
The intensification of the deruralization and dissociation between rural space and agricultural activity processes represents one of the most prominent aspects of contemporary societies’ transformations since the middle of the 20th century. These processes can be understood both as causes and consequences of the current rural reconfigurations, representing constraints and opportunities. Particularly in Portugal, the social and economic role of rural areas has changed dramatically, through their transformation from food producers and labour force reserves into multifunctional spaces, combining the agricultural and forest productions with other activities and functions such as environmental protection, preservation of cultural traditions and tourism and leisure development. These new functions are also related to the redefinition of the rural in social and institutional representations, inducing new consumptions and new rural-urban relations, as well as the need to readjust the respective development strategies.
The aim of this project is to identify and understand, from a theoretical and methodological multidisciplinary approach, the articulations between the social and institutional representations about the rural and its demands and consumptions, expecting to contribute to the design and implementation of informed and more effective development strategies. Based on empirical evidence to be collected from a representative sample of the Portuguese population, from different documents and sources and from the policies and measures developed throughout the last 25 years, the project aims to connect the analysis of the different social images and representations about the rural with the assessment of its diverse demands and consumptions, as well as with the analysis of the development strategies implemented in rural areas. Specifically the project aims to assess the central aspects in the formation and content of those representations, relating them to the main motivations, perceptions and configurations of the demands and consumptions as well as to the analysis of the development strategies implemented in rural areas.
Although the general character of the rural areas’ transformations, their consequences are far more significant in Southern Europe, specifically in Portugal, mainly due to the inadequacy of its agricultural production systems in face of the market globalization processes. Oliveira Baptista et al.  point out the predominance of a fragile rural in Portugal, both due to the absence of socioeconomic dynamics and to the weak agricultural competitiveness. This fragile rural occupies about 50% of the country’s territory and it has been shaped during the fading of a long-lasting era, as we can see, among other references, in the works of Oliveira Baptista ;  and Rolo ; - Throughout that time also the social views and representations on rurality had changed. The rural that emerges from these processes is essentially a post-productive space, which being beyond agriculture, had not yet overcome the long-lasting identification with that activity. For this reason, the rural is facing nowadays a sort of identity crisis of which the contours and potential effects are largely unaddressed.
It is mainly on the fragile rural that new regards and requirements are being placed. On the one hand, the Portuguese historical and cultural specificities and the role played by rurality in its political, economic and social course lead to the hypothesis of the diversity of rural social representations and consumptions. On the other hand, it seems that there is a growing tendency towards the adoption of globalized and hegemonic social images and values about the rural, which have as central aspect its identification with the authentic, the traditional, the natural and the idyllic ; ; ; ; . Those aspects have a decisive influence on the rural contexts’ redefinition and future, which increasingly seem to be related to its touristification. A great part of these images on the rural and rurality are conveyed by the mass media and the political discourse.
Being aware of the diversity of rural areas, it is imperative to understand the variety of the Portuguese society’s representations and narratives about what these territories are, what they could and should be. This imperative is not only related to the development of rural areas, but also to the cohesion of the national territory and to the value of geographical diversity. Recognizing the existent asymmetries of the Portuguese territory as a structural feature, it seems relevant to assume the opportunities rural areas could represent, discovering new duynamics and functions and trying to integrate the different (and often conflicting) visions. Considering that the integrated assessment of these questions has a complex and multidimensional nature, different theoretical and methodological perspectives are used and assembled in this project.
More info about RURAL MATTERS can be found on the project’s website.
 Oliveira Baptista, F. et al. (2003). Portugal Rural: Territórios e Dinãmicas. Lisbon: MADRP/GPPAA.
 Oliveira Baptista, F. (1996). Declínio de um tempo longo. In Pais de Brito, J.; Oliveira Baptista, F. e Pereita, B. (coord.) O Voo do Arado. Lisbon: MNE, pp. 35-75.
 Oliveira Baptista, F. (2006). O Rural depois da Agricultura. In Fonseca, M. L. (coord.). Desenvolvimento e Território – Espaços Rurais Pós-agrícolas e os Novos Lugares de Turismo e Lazer. Lisboa: CEG, pp. 85-100.
 Rolo, J. C. (1996). Imagens de meio século da agricultura portuguesa. In Pais de Brito, J.; Olveira Baptista, F. e Pereita B. (coord.) O Voo do Arado. Lisbon: MNE, pp. 77-160.
 Rolo, J. C. (2003). Para uma Monografia dos Espaços do Rural: Informação sobre a Socioeconomia do Rural (e Concelhos) do Continente Portugês no Final do Sécul XX. ISA/INIAP/ANIMAR, Projecto Agro nº 62. Documento de Trabalho nº 4, Lisbon.
 Halfacree, K. (1993). Locality and Social Representation: Space, Discourse and Alternative Definitions of the Rural. Journal of Rural Studies, nº9, pp. 1-15.
 Halfacree, K. (1995). Talking about Rurality: Social Representations of the Rural as Expressed by Residents of six English Parishes. Journal of Rural Studies, nº 11, pp. 1-20.
 Figueiredo, E. (2003). Um Rural para Viver, Outro para Visitar – o Ambiente nas Estratégias de Desenvolvimento para as Áreas Rurais. PhD Thesis. Aveiro, University of Aveiro.
 Figueiredo, E. (2008). Imagine there’s no Rural – the Transformation of Rural Spaces into Places of Nature Conservation in Portugal. European Urban and Regional Studies. Vol. 15, nº 2, pp. 159-171.
 McCarthy, J. (2008). Rural Geography: Globalizing the Countryside. Progress in Human Geography, Vol. 32, nº1, pp. 129-137.