The intriguing question of regional and territorial development
in rural areas
Analytical variations and public policies
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The aim of this article is to shed some light on issues of territorial development and of rural
development and to identify what links and opposes them. Indeed, everything pushes towards joining
together these two dimensions, which for a long time seemed disconnected. On the one hand, the
policies targeting rural areas explicitly include the territorial dimension, while the distinction between
rural and urban is getting blurred. In the meantime, decentralization, subsidiarity, the regionalisation
of agriculture, short circuits and local foods take place in parallel with the generalization of an urban
model. Finally, we find that regional sciences are paying increasing attention to rural and
agricultural dimensions, while studies concerning rural questions are starting to consider territorial
issues. The first section of the article provides a critical presentation and attempts to define and
distinguish the notions of development, territory and rural. The second section addresses questions of
regional and territorial development by presenting the main theories and public policies and
concludes with a discussion about the possibilities of reconciling the theories and the policies. The
third section follows the same structure, applied to the question of rural development, from analyses to
Key words : Regional development, territorial development, rural development, rural areas,
The question of regional, and later of territorial development lies at the intersection of two
traditions that have grown in importance since the second half of the 20
century. On the one
hand, develo pment, a constant object of study for researchers, and particularly economists, is
scrutinized, studied, modelled in its many dimensions – especially its geographic one –
ranging successively from the nation, to the regions and finally the territories (Capello, 2007).
On the other hand, and following the decentralization processes which all nations have
undergone, local development techniques and engineering practices are progressively being
implemented and lead to the construction of a trial-and-error based heuristics of development.
Promoted by decentralized public policies or by policies decided at territorial levels, but also
by the actions and practices of many development experts who work with economic actors
and inhabitants, those engineering techniques contribute to the diffusion of the
developmentalist ideology and its successive recipes.
As a result of this double movement, a mass of knowledge and methods, all concerning
regional or territorial development, are emerging. But the associated approaches seem so
disconnected that it is difficult to make a synthesis of those methods (Rowe, 2009). They
range from good practices, benchmarking processes, territorial diagnoses to economic models
and human capital or territorial governance theories. This complexity gets even tougher when
one focuses more specifically on rural development processes, and this for at least two
reasons. Firstly, the term "rural" itself has now become ambiguous and controversial. But
even more ambiguous are the relations between regional, rural and territorial development:
are they all various forms of the same movement, mechanisms that slot together, or are they
The aim of this article is to shed some light on these questions and in particular to contribute
to better understanding the link between issues of regional or territorial development and
issues of rural development. Indeed, however disconnected these dimensions might have
seemed, everything now pushes towards joining them together. On the one hand, the policies
targeting rural areas tend to explicitly include the territorial dimension, while the distinction
between the “rural” and the “urban” is getting blurred. Decentralization, subsidiarity, the
questions related to the regionalisation of agriculture (Cambridge Journal of Regions,
Economy and Society, 2010), citizens' demands in terms of short circuits and local foods
occur in parallel with the generalization of an urban model. In the meantime, we find that
regional sciences are paying increasing attention to rural and agricultural dimensions (de
Noronha Vaz et al., 2006 ; 2009), while studies concerning rural questions are starting to
consider territorial issues (Cloke et al., 2006).
The first section of the article provides a critical presentation and attempts to define and
distinguish the notions of development, territory and rural. The second section addresses
questions of regional and territorial development: it begins with a presentation of the main
theories and public policies in this field, and concludes with a discussion about the
possibilities of reconciling the theories and the policies. The third section follows the same
structure, applied to the question of rural development, from analyses to grass-roots policies.
I. Disputed notions and definitions
Addressing the question of regional, territorial development and rural development
necessarily leads – given the amount of literature on these issues – to ponder the meaning of
the terms used. Three main questions are then raised in terms of terminology and definitions
of the fields of study. They concern, respectively:
The very notion of development and its scope;
The regional/territorial trade-off;
The extension of the scope of rural development and its congruence to questions on
I.1. A review of the notion of development
Let us begin with the notion of development, which is at the basis of all the approaches
discussed here. A quick review of the literature shows us that it is, in many respects,
intriguing and sometimes lacking in clear theoretical foundations. As Stimson et al pointed
out "It is surprising to find how authors have diversely and often imprecisely defined the
term" (Stimson et al, 2006). Often used as a synonym for process or state ("this country has
reached an important level of development"), it is still used like an adverb associated with
such terms as "economic", "regional" or "agricultural", or evokes the id ea of increase or
According to the OECD, development is a “process through which the (market and non
market) welfare of a given population improves, a process that repeats itself from one period
to the next, at individual and collective or social levels” (OECD, 1982). Though elliptical,
this working definition has the advantage of transcending the mere issue of production and
defends the idea that development concerns the whole population of a given area and the
different aspects of its welfare. Mention is also often made of the definition proposed by
Perroux, according to whom development is a “combination of a population's mental and
social changes which make it capable of ensuring the cumulative and lasting growth of its real
global product. Development encompasses and supports growth” (Perroux, 1964). Just like
the OECD, Perroux makes a distinction between development and growth for the former does
not merely pertain to dimensions such as increases in standards of living or in the GDP, but
also encompasses wider aspects related to people's lifestyle, skills, knowledge and mental
dispositions. Furthermore, this definition includes non economic variables and brings to the
fore the central role played by social and cognitive changes. Equitable access to resources
such as food, education, justice and healthcare are dimensions that are now commonly
included in the definition.
There is nothing against considering that the essence of development lies somewhere else, in
the idea of transformations and dynamic processes, in the question of economic and
institutional changes, changes in customs, lifestyles and in people's perceptions. In this
regard, it is interesting to mention psychology's essential definition: the development of a
person, or personality, in his/her early childhood, corresponds to the development of a
potential, of qualities and skills during the course of a trial and error process that is not
necessarily linear. Another approach, of great interest, was initiated by Schumpeter (1934)
with his famous theory of economic development, which above all translates a dynamic
process of departure from the routine in transactions and homothetic growth, as well as the
implementation of new rules and new modes of functioning, characterized by shifts from the
more linear phases of growth. This reference must prevent researchers or practitioners from
limiting themselves to comparisons or typologies, which are indeed, useful, but which often
merely consist in the observation or evaluation of a given state of development, without
directly addressing the question of economic and technical transformations and changes in
I.2. Regions and territories
The terms “regional development” and “territorial development” have now replaced the term
"local development", generally applied to small, infra-regional portions of territory,
undergoing self-reliant or bottom-up development processes. The generalized use of these
phrases raises questions: are they identical, opposed, or substitutable?
The term "regional" refers to two relatively distinct meanings. The first, which is in decline
and is mostly used in the administrative sense by the Regions themselves or by the EU, refers
to administrative regions (e.g. The Centre Region in France, or the Tuscany Region in Italy).
The second, carried since the 1950s by the literature on regional development and regional
sciences and mostly based on an economic vision, pertains to the «geographical" dimensions
of development or growth (e.g. Isard 1956). It encompasses, at random, questions related to
the "local", the region, the lo cation of activities or people, as well as the wealth and
competitiveness of certain portions of space or nations. The territory is generally ignored in
this type of approach.
The qualifier "territorial" was recently in troduced in the literature on development,
particularly in the English language literature. It refers to the notion of territory, whose
emergence was slow and sometimes controversial in this field of analysis. Nowadays, still,
the eight definitions of "territory" proposed by Levy and Lussault (2003) in their dictionary of
geography testify to the difficulty of agreeing on a common definition of the term. In this
study, we have retained the following definition: a geographic zone with delimited borders,
within which relationships are organized and governed by groups or particular populations
that identify with one another within common projects. Let us also mention the conventional
definition given by Sack (1986): “Territoriality will be defined as the attempt by an
individual or a group to affect, influence or control people, phenomena, and relationships, by
delimiting an asserting control over a geographic area. This area will be called the territory.".
As a result, the territories are permanent constructs with moving boundaries, and are
constituted through the oppositions and compromises between the local actors. Many authors,
however, consider that the notion of geographic border is obsolete and that territories can be
areas or enclaves that may be very far from one another.
If we retain these definitions, the notion of regional development refers to the processes that
occur within the institutional borders of the Region, whereas that of territorial development
pertains to a process of construction of territorialities by local populations (Mollard et al,
2007), in relation, naturally, with policies' directives or more general incentives.
I.3. About the "rural" and rural development
Considered in its most general sense, the term "rural development" is a variation of the term
"development" and refers to the development of an area with specific characteristics. "The
term rural development is a subset of the broader term development...It connotes overall
development of rural areas with a view to improve the quality of life or rural people" (Singh,
2009). But this approach proves difficult to maintain. Indeed, Singh identifies no less than
four successive and alternative meanings for the term rural development, which can be seen as
a process, a phenomenon, a strategy or as a dis cipline!
Choosing the right sense for rural development is also made complicated by the above
mentioned difficulty of defining the term development, and overshadows the rich debate
about the ambiguity of the division between "rural" and "urban" (Mormont, 1990) as well as
on the meaning of the term "rural" which can be understood as a social construction, a
functional space or a type of zone that is the object of specific policies (Clocke, 2006).
Though rural areas are sometimes defined in the negative – a residual category of non-urban
areas – the characterization of a rural area is traditionally based on morphological criteria: low
population density, irregularly and sparsely distributed buildings, the presence of farming
activities... Yet this definition includes areas as diverse as the countryside areas close to cities,
natural or recreational places or more distant, depopulated or weakened areas.
The different visions of rural space – productive resource historically related to farming,
space for recreational or touristic purposes related to the amenities that characterise it, or more
recently, nature area - are conditioned by people's perceptions and by the different types of
public policies implemented (Perrier Cornet, 2002). They combine or oppose each other,
leading to varying trajectories of rural spaces, which have for the last several decades
undergone profound transformations, and in particular have regained attractiveness following
a long period of depopulation.
For a lo ng time confused with the notion of agricultural development, because of the
predominance of agribusiness activities and the weight of the farming sector, the notion of
rural development has emerged in the social and political debate and has progressively
established itself in the OECD countries (OECD, 2006b). Whether it is conceived, by the
member states, as
a broadened agricultural development, a component of regional development or as a way of
taking into account environmental issues such as the preservation of natural resources and of
biodiversity or the provision of environmental goods and services (Perrier-Cornet, 2010),
rural development is now an integral component of EU policies and one of the pillars of the
Common Agricultural Policy. In the Southern countries, the priority was set on urban
development, marked by structural adjustment policies and rapid modernisation processes.
The renewed interest in rural development, triggered by international organizations (World
Bank, 2008) and by local initiatives, is related to the environmental impact of development
operations (deforestation, destruction of biodiversity...), to the increase of social conflicts, the
dissemination of new modes of production and to the fear of a generalized food crisis.
II. From the early literature to the contemporary approaches on Regional or Territorial
The questions of regional or territorial development were first introduced in research on issues
related to local and regional development undertaken at the end of World War II and in the
policies of regional and territorial development and management implemented since the
beginning of the 1960s. As a result of taking into account local issues, and the
decentralization process, a large theoretical apparatus - the purpose of which has been to
identify the rules of development – as well as interventions and recipes have emerged.
II. 1. The main issues related to regional or territorial development
The abundant literature on regional or territorial development is founded on three main
competing visions, that correspond to strong and different analytical presuppositions and
which divide the sphere of analysis of development between one another.
We first find schools of thought that seek, first and foremost, to balance the interests and
gains drawn by the different local actors from the development process and to elaborate
principles that will enable the different stakeholders to obtain maximum satisfaction. Thus,
the standard economic approach, founded on the theory of equilibrium, seeks to maximise the
utility of the stakeholders on the basis of their more or less perfect rationality, and to meet
their needs, but to not do so at the expense of their neighbours' needs (Solow, 1956; Romer
1990). Attaining an optimum utility – of growth mostly – makes it possible to define a
pathway the different stakeholders can follow together. We can draw a parallel here with a
large number of approaches that integrate environmental dimensions or think in terms of
sustainable development (Bourgeron et al, 2009). Also founded on a paradigm of negotiation
supposed to lead to a balanced distribution of rights and duties between the different local
stakeholders, following a deliberation process, these approaches seek to take into account
both the objectives and the constraints of an economic and environmental nature, in a
perspective of weak sustainability: Development must not deplete resources, including
through the substitution of the natural capital by man-made resources (Pearce et al, 1996).
In this group belong the approaches on which the neoclassical theory is based, approaches
which envisage a homothetic growth based on capital and labour inputs, subsequently
extended to a third input of a more technological nature, in most cases knowledge or R&D
investments (Solow, 2000). This involves assessing the volume of production and its growth,
and placing them in parallel with the optimal combination of factors and the efforts made in
terms of productivity or capital accumulation for example (See Johansson et al, 2001). This
approach, which considers the possible elimination, in the long term, of inter-regional
disparities, has met relative success - relative because of its limitations in terms of homothetic
growth and its inability to account for the imbalances signalled early on by the authors of
polarisation theory or of bottom-up growth for example. It has been quite adequately replaced
since the 1990s by the New Geographical Economics, which makes it possible to take into
account the dimensions related to unbalanced growth and to the polarization of activities in
the analysis of development processes.
The economic base analyses (Alexander, 1954; Sombart, 1916) also advocate seeking a
balanced development. They rest on the idea that regional economy can be divided into two
A so called "basic sector", which produces goods and services destined for export and
allows for regional development through capturing external revenues:
A domestic sector, whose production is destined for local consumption.
Development then relies on an expansion of the basis sector, which, in particular, gives rise to
a Keynesian multiplier effect on the local economy as a whole. The rise in the incomes of this
sector's workers then generates an in crease in their consumption level and, as a result, a
development of domestic production sector. This fosters a virtuous development dynamic,
based in most cases, on the essential place of urban agglomerations in the production of basic
The second, most important group consists of approaches according to which the
compromises reached between the local actors are purely temporary and the development
processes generate inter-regional inequalities that are difficult to reduce. Inversely to the
previously mentioned group, these approaches consider that development contributes to
widening, often lastingly, the disparities between regions or territories. They also highlight
the existence of local systems with significant particularities at institutio nal, economic and
technical levels, and whose successes or failures lead to fundamentally unbalanced
These works are based on the analysis of growth poles initiated by Perroux, Myrdal and later
Hirschman or Higgins. Perroux's initial idea is that development cannot occur everywhere, at
the same time and with the same intensity. Proof of this is the existence of less developed
countries or areas, which the growth pole theory was the first to recognize. Development
rests on a polarization of activities, which is itself based on the existence of large dynamic
firms, situated at the heart of the most developed regions. It is these firms and industrial
complexes which generate market linkages - towards suppliers or subcontractors, and towards
their end clients or industrial actors. This results in a polarization of activities and wealth
benefiting some regions at the expense of the less developed ones.
Inverting the idea of a convergence of regions' growth rates and economic strength levels, the
New Geographical Economics (NGE), introduced by Krugman (1991) and popularized by
authors such as Fujita, Thisse or Ottaviano for example (Fujita and Thisse, 1997; Ottaviano
and Thisse, 2004) acknowledges the high probability that phenomena of spatial polarization
and concentration of activities might occur, phenomena that can benefit one region at the
expense of its competitors. From the possibility of increasing returns in some industries and
the supposed preference of consumers for variety and differentiated products, the NGE
deduces the probability of divergence phenomena that testify to the industrial specialization
and therefore the enrichment of some regions or nations, at the expense of competitors which
are less developed as a result of their late start in the race for the production of non
agricultural and non traditional commodities. The NGE gives a vision of the world in which
polarization increases, particularly to the advantage of cities, in which enterprises,
employees/consumers are co-located, the advocated development being that of productive
activities, often at the level of large areas (regions, or even nations), through reciprocal
spillovers between activities and workers/consumers. Thus, the questions to be raised are that
of the activities' capacities to generate spillover effects at regional level (for example the
spillover effects emanating from the construction industry), that related to the reciprocal
impact of firms' and workers/consumers' location, as well as to the decrease in transport costs
which reinforces the processes of polarisation at the expense of the peripheral areas.
The analysis of local production systems, initiated in the 1970s, also rests on the observation
of geographically differentiated development processes. Initiated by the analyses of Italian
districts (Beccatini, 1990), and later of different forms of groupings ranging from clusters,
agro-food systems or of Localized Productive Systems, it is founded in the systemic nature of
the relationships between the actors who, together, belong to one territory and shape it
through their cooperation and common projects. Vertical or horizontal relations, belonging to
a homogeneous social group or relations based on repeated interactions, what matters is the
creation of a local community founded at once on alliance and cooperation networks and on
more or less formal governance structures through which the rules accepted by all the
participants can be complied with. Development depends on the efficiency of the system and
on its ability to renew and transform itself in response to exogenous shocks such as variations
in consumers' preferences or the arrival of new competitors. Generally small in size (sub-
regional) the zones in question pertain to the territorial dimension and are characterized by
different levels of development, due precisely to the characteristics of these systems and their
ability to mobilize and to bring local resources to fruition. There is here the idea of bottom-
to-top development - dear to authors such as Stohr (1986) – as well as a desire to typologize
the forms of development (Italian-style districts, State based systems, systems with a core of
large firms or based on innovation...) (Markusen, 1996), but little analysis of the actual
processes of development and of their dynamic.
Of particular importance are two approaches that have played an important role in the
systemic analysis; the first is Porter's analysis (Porter, 1985, 1990), because of its wide
impact. Porter considers that the competitive advantage of a region or a territory rests on four
main factors that must be exploited in order for the region in question to gain a lead over its
competitors: the strategies, structures and the rivalry between firms, the state of the demand,
the geographical relationships between linked firms and the state of production resources or
factors (traditional or in terms of skills). More particularly, the presence of local clusters, of
groupings of firms and laboratories with strong links helps create and reveal factors of
production. Let us not forget the Socio-Ecological Systems' approaches (Anderies et al,
2004), derived from analyses in terms of institutional arrangements (Ostrom, 1990) and which
integrate into the systemic approach questions related to the sustainable management of local
resources. The originality of these works lies in their envisaging systems in which individuals
are in direct in teraction and interdependence with biophysical and non-human biological
entities, which lead to not only consider the inter-individual relations but also the uses of the
resources and the resulting exclusions.
The rules of collective action that are implemented at the level of a territory are then aimed to
not only govern the relations between the local actors but also individual and collective
decisions concerning the use and management of the resources.
Analyses in terms of residential or "presential" economics, according to which territorial
development is based on the capture of external revenues, propose another illustration of
inter-regional disparities. Adapted from the economic base theories, but excluding the latter's
approach in terms of balanced relations between local actors, they describe the development
of regions or territories that benefit from inflows of revenue from other regions without
possessing the sufficient industrial or agricultural production capacity to use this revenue as a
basis for producing export goods (Davezies, 2008).
The touristic coastal territories or southern regions belong to this category; they benefit from
the temporary inflows of tourists staying for more or less long periods of time, and who by
consuming, infuse money into the local economy (or residential economy, see Terrier 2006),
or from the money spent by retired people, who are no longer productive but inject money
into their new places of residence (or residential economy). The basic sector no longer
contributes to the development of the region through production, but through the capture of
two sources of external revenue. This results in an inversion of the usual development
criteria, development which rests on a service-based economy relying on the consumption of
these migrants, often at the expense of the regions that gain very little from their production
The third and last category of approach rests on the idea that regional or territorial
development is profoundly linked to the occurrence of dynamic shifts, resulting from
processes of innovation or creation, at the origin of paces and volumes of development that
vary from one region or territory to the next. The analyses of regional development based on
the processes of innovation and regulation, as well as some of the systemic approaches
consider that local systems are subject to successive phases of growth and stagnation, or even
recession, which reinforce or reduce the inequalities between social categories, as indeed, the
fruits of the economic growth can be appropriated by certain groups or off-shore firms that
may be in the hands of external capital. It is, first and foremost, internal shocks which
generate transformations in the system and cause processes of geographical concentration of
people and wealth, and zones of social and spatial exclusion to emerge.
The approach to development as resting on innovations or technology is based on taking into
account the importance of R&D or innovation activities in local development. Partly inspired
from Schumpeter's analyses, it is based on the idea that innovations constitute the key to
development processes and that the efforts made in terms of R&D or of incentives to innovate
can play an important rôle in the implementation and success of growth dynamics. This often
implies a systemic approach, which highlights the role played by the transfer and diffusion of
innovation at local level (Feldman, 1994; Autant-Bernard et al., 2007), as well as the
importance of face to face relations and of stages of spin-off creation and development or
phases of support to creation (firm or project incubators...). The driving force of development
then lies in the existence of localized innovation or knowledge spillovers within the local
system and which can give rise to highly competitive local innovation systems such as
technology parks or competitive clusters. It is innovation that drives development, and marks
the difference between dynamic systems and the others. Often founded exclusively on high-
tech activities, these approaches find broader expression in terms of territorial innovation in
the more rural or less developed territories, by relying on organizational innovations and the
mobilisation of local populations; Some authors, who see the rules of collective action and the
institutional mechanisms as factors explaining innovativ e territorial dynamics, consider
innovation as a social construction shaped by the geographic context in which it lies; rooted in
practices, it is therefore necessarily situated in space (see for example the works conducted by
the GREMI on the notion of innovative milieu).
During the last decade, the analysis of spatial dynamics has been enriched by works
conducted as a continuation of the evolutionist theory (Frenken and Boschma, 2007), which
considers the unequal distribution of activities in space as the result of largely contingent
historic processes. Evolutionary Economic Geography grants great significance to the
entrepreneurial dimension, whether it pertains to the history or processes of emergence,
growth, decline and interruption of activities of enterprises (Boshma and Frenken, 2011).
Particular emphasis is placed on the role of spin-offs and of the mobility of the workforce in
the processes of territorial development (Maskell, 2001), as well as on the routine
reproduction mechanisms within the local in dustrial network. Drawing advantage from
geographical, industrial and technological proximity between different sectors of activity
(Torre, 2008), as well as from institutional mechanisms and networks structures, these
technologies are disseminated through a snow-ball effect between technologically related
enterprises and industries, and end up locking the local systems into growth path
dependencies. This process - which explains much better than co-lo cation economies the
ability of clusters to transform themselves and therefore to survive over time - functions
particularly well when it involves emerging industries or industries based on closely related
technologies; indeed, this small cognitive distance facilitates the diffusion of knowledge
externalities (Nooteboom, 2000).
II.2. Policies of regional development and planning
The analyses presented above have, for the most part, inspired or promoted the
implementation of public development policies, or even of land planning policies, and can
correspond to and are sometimes mistaken for the latter even though the objectives may prove
contradictory (an energy development policy based on the construction of a nuclear station
and a land development policy aiming to promote the arrival of new resid ents). Analysing
regional policies makes it possible to measure the scope of influence of the works conducted
in the field of regional science concerning the configuration of the measures implemented and
the limitations of the operational transcription of the theoretical principles.
Development policies overall respond to two main categories of issues – how can growth be
stimulated and how should it be distributed - which pertains to questions of competitiveness
and of cohesion within territories. They aim, first of all, to improve the functioning and
efficiency of public activities and services (in reference to the location and growth theories,
and to works conducted in the field of industrial economics) by optimising their location and
organization. But their purpose is also to minimize as much as possible the differences
between the pace of growth and/or the development level of the most dynamic regions and
that of the less favoured ones, to redistribute the fruits of growth between the territories and to
compensate for situations of recession. Thus, these policies attempt to combine several
principles and to make them compatible (Lacour et al, 2003): Distribution or redistribution,
the creation of activities or innovations, the reduction of differences and imbalances, and
Approaches in terms of regional balance and growth
According to the standard growth theory, the efficient allocation of production factors should
imply a move of the latter towards the regions where wages are the highest, which would
contribute to an overall increase of productivity and of individual well being (Borst and Stein,
1964). Thus, the absence of political intervention was for a long time justified by the market's
role of resource allocation, which was supposed to enable the levels of regional development
to converge. The policies based on this approach then imply a minimal level of expenditures
and selective support, such as that applied in the framework of the mechanisms governing
eligibility mechanisms of the European Regional policy (European Commission, 2004). It is
now thought that this approach has too often neglected to take into account the problems of
market imperfections, while accepting an hypothesis of substitutability between capital and
labour, which has little credibility in terms of mobility.
Considering space as a mere recipient with no influence on economic trajectories, these
policies do not take into account the mechanisms of sub-regional aggregation. By relying on
macroeconomic growth models, they neglect to consider the contributions of the location
theories, such as the importance of physical proximity in growth mechanisms (Isard, 1956)
and generally prove ineffective to establish principles for local development. The same can
be said of the economic base theory (Sombard, 1902; North, 1955) - one of the first
approaches meant to provide operational results for regional development policies, which
considers an increase in exports as the solution to increase the regional GDP. This solution is
limited by the risk that it might be impossible to increase the local production capacities, both
in terms of labour and physical capital, and these limitations are evident at the level of small
Despite their academic success, the endogenous growth theory and the New Economic
Geography provide few solutions in terms of local public policies. The contributions of the
endogenous growth theory have prompted many countries to target public expenditures to the
most dynamic agglomerations, at the expense of equity (Scott and Storper, 2007); indeed,
overly focusing on increasing efficiency and productivity may lead to neglecting issues of
redistribution between the various territories within one region or one country. Yet, the
question of increasing returns and of productivity gains that those contributions raise can
prove formidable (Martin and Sunley, 1998) if we acknowledge that increasing returns and
productivity gains are not exclusively linked to a better utilization of production factors
(particularly labour) but also to an increase in the overall production volume. The role of the
demand from outside -which gives rise to scale effects (Verdoorn's law) – in this process and
therefore the reciprocal link between increases in the supply and in productivity are therefore
neglected by the endogenous growth theory. As for the NGE, the simplifying hypotheses
aimed to help formalize the mathematical models only account for some of the externalities
that generate regional and local growth. Furthermore, it pays little attention to the effect of
historical, social and institutional contexts on growth mechanisms.
Although NEG works do not yet lead to unequivocal conclusions, they have made it possible
to show that the policies of transport infrastructure development aimed at promoting the
development of remote areas can fail and lead to an increased concentration of activities,
particularly when they concern territories that are little integrated nationally and
internationally (Behrens et al, 2007). Controlling the phenomenon of spatial concentration
seems to be counter-productive in terms of economic optimum; it seems appropriate, on the
contrary, to encourage it since the most dynamic regions have the ability to distribute within
their territory the benefits of their development. Thus, geographical policies, at least in
industrialized countries, merely serve to reduce the congestion effects specific to large cities,
to ensure that a "minimum" level of public services is provided, to implement geographically
neutral redistribution mechanisms and to facilitate the mobility of resources in order to reduce
the differences between territories (Prager and Thisse, 2009).
Approaches in terms of interregional inequalities
The growth pole theory, based on the importance of local input-output relations as a lever for
growth, has been applied extensively in Europe and in South America, particularly since the
1960s. The presence of large firms constituting a propulsive industry being considered as the
means to stimulate growth, the policies have been directed towards the creation and relocation
of industrial firms. These policies have resulted in some successes (Lyon's biopole in
France), but also in a low level of job creation and in the construction of a few "cathedrals in
the desert" (Lipietz, 2001). It differs from the liberal vision of development conveyed by the
NEG through the idea that polarisation is not inescapable and that corrective policies can
promote the development of the poorer regions, particularly through the proactive
implementation of industries and of export taxes.
With the industrial crisis of the 1970s, these models proved incapable of interpreting the
emerging phenomena (crisis of large firms and of industrial regions, persis tence of a certain
immobility of capitals and populations, success of the regions – such as the “Third Italy" -
that were not organized according to these precepts) or of proposing efficient solutions. Like
theories, the policies of endogenous regional development then turned toward a better
management and exploitation of local resources and the promotion of collective action in the
territories, particularly following the success of industrial districts and other types of local
productive systems. Nevertheless, the emphasis placed on the endogenous factors and the
decentralization of decision making, particularly of orientation decisions, raise the question of
their reproducibility and of their dependence on macroeconomic contingencies that have little
relation to the quality of the decentralized policy.
Granting primacy to innovation: the era of technology parks and competitive clusters
One of the characteristics of contemporary development policies is that they consider that
dynamism, at local level, in terms of innovation, production and knowledge transfer is one of
the keys to regional development, hence the important effort undertaken by regional and local
authorities in this field. Policies of support to innovation - a source of increasing returns - are
now part of the arsenal used by decision makers, who see increasing returns as the driving
force, by excellence, of growth and development (Hall, 1994). These policies are based on
the fact that the appropriability of innovation gains is low, which calls for an intervention of
the State in order to compensate for a possible low level of investment in the field of R&D.
These strategies, which have given rise to policies promoting high-tech activities (Goldstein,
2009) or large scale projects such as the Airbus project, are also considered relevant for rural
areas, isolated regions and SMEs that lack resources. Their many ramifications can be
divided into four main, though not quite watertight, categories:
- The traditional policies of support to and for R&D activities and expenditures, in
volume or number of jobs;
- The policies that promote exchanges between enterprises and laboratories or
universities, so that innovations irrigate the productive sector faster. For example,
the Triple Helix approach aims to facilitate communication between these sectors
and society or the public authorities (Leydersdorff, 2006) ;
- The policies aimed at promoting the creation of a knowledge- and skill- based
economy, resting on both an increase in the education level and on the diffusion of
new technologies among the population;
- Finally, the policies that seek to attract "innovative actors" into certain regions or
towns, arguing that their presence will promote creation and innovation processes.
Few are the countries or Regions that have not implemented, in Europe, policies dedicated to
local innovation systems, such as districts in Italy, the competence clusters in Germany or
Denmark, or the technology and science parks in the United Kingdom, for example. In
France the competitive cluster policy underlies a large part of the effort undertaken to
promote innovative activities. Governed by the State, which functions as an initiator or
facilitator of initiatives, this policy is supposed to orientate the production and innovation
activities of a large number of enterprises, through the implementation of an incentive policy.
Furthermore, the sector-based logic of the large-scale projects policies has given way to the
geographic agglomeration of activities and of the means into privileged geographic areas
centred around large enterprises, and maintains the ambiguity between the support to large
industrial concentrations and the will to promote regional planning. Finally, this policy fits
into the Lisbon Strategy, which aims to make Europe "the world's most competitive and
dynamic economy", as was declared by the European heads of States and Governments at the
European Council of March 2000.
One of the known limitations of this approach lies in its linear conception, which minimizes
the importance of feedback loops and of uncertainty in innovation processes. It leads to
relatively unsatisfactory results in that it fails to take in to account the geographic
concentration of R&D and of innovation activities within a small number of regions, as well
as the phenomenon of exploitation of new knowledge outside the supported areas. Moreover,
the usefulness and appropriateness of the "picking-the-winner" policies, which aim to select
the areas that are the most favourable to innovation and the most dynamic sectors in terms of
future job creation (biotechnology, nano-technologies), can be questioned (Boschma, 2009).
Besides the fact that it is impossible to predict future fast growth regions or winning sectors –
because new in dustries are often the result of spontaneous processes rather than of
orchestrated interventions – they lead to opt everywhere for the same activities, whereas the
industrial and the in novation systems are very different and often incomplete (Camagni,
1995). Thus, the inertia and lock-in phenomena cause the great majority of regions to fail to
develop these industries, resulting in huge losses of public resources.
Another approach to innovation policies is advocated by research works whose views are
close to that of evolutionists, who consider that market imperfections should not necessarily
be corrected by public intervention for they are in herent to regional economies and can
sometimes serve as motors of innovation and growth (Bryant, 2001). The goal of regional
policy should then be to encourage and facilitate innovation through the creation, diffusion
and exploitation (or commercialisation) of new knowledge (Boschma, 2009), but also and
above all, through the promotion or creation of enterprises. This may involve direct
interventions, such as the provision of R&D, education and capital, in order to increase firms'
absorption and innovation capacities, but also to stimulate knowledge transfer through three
main mechanisms: incentives for the creation of spin-offs from universities or firms, so as to
diversify the regional economy, by exploiting the knowledge and skills available in the
existing sectors; support to labour mobility; support to collaborative networks.
Decentralization and territorial governance as emerging forms of processes of territorial
Since the early 1990s, controversies have arisen concerning the appropriateness of the
regional level for regulating and understanding economic dynamics. Some authors have used
the terms "new regionalism" (Keating et al, 2003) or "new localism" (Goetz and Clarke, 1993)
to account for the importance of the region in the logics of economic, social and political
actions, as well as of the role of territorial institutions in development processes. The context
is favourable to decentralization policies, whether they involve the reinforcement of regional
and territorial structures, of the rise of regional identity movements or of some regions'
demand for autonomy. Various movements have common doubts about the ability of national
instruments and policies to solve economic and social problems, and share in the belief that a
regional level (or small nation) approach is more efficient. It is, in particular, at this level that
efficient solutions to the issues of firms' competitiveness could be found, through being able
to better understand the constraints and actions that characterize them, in an international
environment marked by a high degree of institutional integration and economic
interdependence (Scharpf, 1991).
Thus the role of regional institutions is shifting from that of implementing the
competitiveness and redistribution policies elaborated by the State, to that of territorial
entrepreneurs seeking to manage and organize the territories in such a way as to make them
efficient, promote them and attract investments; this is a shift whereby the territories are
engaged in a form of competition symbolised by the multiplication of development agencies
(Halkier et al, 1998). Key development actors, these agencies rest, not only on regional
policies, but also on the implementation of mechanisms of development of a supply of
training and skills, of technologies, and of facilities responding to expectations in terms of
land, housing and even of natural environment.
This logic is not limited to the regional level, but also concerns towns, large cities, peri-urban
or rural areas (Harvey, 1989) and combines with the development of local alliances between
social and political actors, in order to promote local economic growth (Keating et al, 2003).
Although overall, they fit within a neo-liberal context, such strategies are sometimes based on
different ideologies, as shown by the successful development of Emilie Romane - founded on
the combination of a progressive political action, of a logic of social integration and of
entrepreneurial success in the framework of industrial districts – governed by the Communist
Party (Brusco, 1982; Garmise, 1994). These coalitions then play a key role, embodying the
local institutions from which emerged the decisions in terms of production of public goods
fostering development and the creation of relations between economic actors. Thus, one
refers to territorial governance, involving a large number of actors of different natures in the
management of local development policies (Jessop,1997; Pasquier et al, 2007)..
Some authors have cautioned against the excesses and negative effects of this entrepreneurial
orientation (Harvey, 1989). Indeed, innovative initiatives and the investments approved by
the territories to differentiate themselves and obtain a competitive advantage are only relative
and temporary, which subjects them to the pressure of a race in which each territory seeks to
temporarily take the lead to attract enterprises and households. Despite the resulting
stimulation, the risks of inefficiency are many.
Furthermore, there is an important debate about the sharing of competencies and budget
resources between the different authority levels, from the local to the national, and even
supranational. Sometimes described as fiscal federalism, these approaches relate to different
topics: the optimality of the distribution of powers and financial resources, the coordination of
activities between the governments linked to a federal State, the interregional externalities,
equalisation and solidarity, financial transfers and tax competition. They are traditionally
addressed on the basis of three main functions allocated, according to Musgrave's typology, to
the public sector (1959): efficiency of resource distribution; redistribution activities for equity
purposes, macroeconomic stabilisation and promotion of growth.
If the federal state or supra-nation level has won recognition in the literature as the most
suitable level for the function of macro-enonomic stabilisation, particularly in relation to the
budget and financial dimensions, the analyses of the causes of growth generally conclude to
the appropriateness of the responsibility being shared between the different spatial levels. But
most of the current controversies are about the optimal spatial level for the allocation and
redistribution functions. The "vote with one's feet" approaches (Tiebout, 1956) for a long
time concluded to the efficiency of a decentralized production of public goods and services as
long as are fulfilled the hypotheses of difference between the preferences of the actors of the
various federal entities, of mobility of individuals and of absence of returns to scale when
public goods are dividable and have no spillover effects. But the New Fiscal Federalism
movement tends to question the relevance of this model for the management of public
expenses and of fiscal autonomy of local authorities (Rodden, 2000; Wildasin, 2004) arguing
that giving the lower levels of authority too much room for manoeuvre in terms of budget
policies or borrowing could lead to over-indebtedness and to a non-optimal distribution of
resources. Furthermore, the benefits of the tax competition to which the regions subject one
another, in their attempt to attract enterprises, remain highly controversial, because tax
competition can lead to an insufficient tax level in relation with the demands of local
development, or even prove inefficient in the case of enterprises characterized by low
mobility. Finally the question is raised of the efficiency of the modes of public intervention
in matters of redistribution, and more particularly of organisation of social benefits between
individuals or territories. The problems of solidarity and mobility of the tax bases to finance
these policies also pertains to equity between regions and to the relationships between the
central government and the decentralized authorities (Guihéry, 1997).
A way beyond this debate lies in the implementation of multi-level governance policies.
Extensively used in the political science literature (Bache and Flinders, 2004), this term
emerged in the mid 1990s to conceptualize the complex relationships, within the European
Union, between State and sub-national, public and private, or between transnational and
supranational actors, within diversified networks of horizontal and vertical relationships
(Payne, 2000). Indeed, a close examination of practices shows a reinforcement of the direct
interactions between supra-national and sub-national (regional in particular) authorities, in the
implementation of policies (Rodriguez-Pose, 2002); the EU becoming an evolutive arena
whose dynamics cannot be reduced to an inter-governmental logic. Though the States remain
the main actors of the decision making process and of the implementation of public policies,
collective decision-making processes cause the executive of each state to lose some control,
whereas in the meantime the sub-national actors are directly involved in the national and
supra-national arenas, creating trans-national associations. Thus, the States no longer
monopolize the link between sub-national and European actors and now appear as one actor
among others operating at different levels. Some justify this evolution by the diversity of the
geographic scales – from the local to the global – of the externalities related to the provision
of public goods (Hooghe and Marks, 2001). However, certain fields of public action remain
the prerogatives of national governments; for example, labour market regulation, taxation,
public investment; the latter two fields actually enable the national governments to perform
the function of redistribution between the better endowed regions and the poorer ones.
III. Questions around rural development. From analyses to grassroots policies
Although a large number of works and handbooks have been published on the question of
regional or territorial development or as presentations of research conducted on the subject
(see Clocke et al, 2006), the equivalent literature devoted to questions of rural development is
not as easy to come by, as the latter is a field of study that cannot readily be described as a
discipline per se. Nevertheless, the questions related to rural development are included much
more extensively in the agenda of public policies, as can be seen in the European
Commission's well stocked website dedicated to questions of agriculture and rural
development (EU, 2010), or in various books describing field experiences or actions
conducted in collaboration with local actors (for example, Mosley, 2006). It will therefore be
necessary to keep browsing and searching in order to define the content and the research
conducted in this field, between the analysis of actions and of policies implemented in the
field, and the careful analysis of research studies for which questions of development are not
necessarily priorities. Incidentally, the local practices and policies bring about theoretical
reflections, and therefore contribute to the construction of the “new paradigm” ( van der Ploeg
et al. 2000 ; OCDE, 2006a).
III.1. “Rural development: myth or reality?”
The first contemporary analyses of rural development are based on the experiences conducted
in the 1950s following the development programmes initiated in various regions of the world,
particularly by the United States or the United Nations. These programmes are characterized
by a strong emphasis on agriculture which can be explained by two historical factors: The
necessity to increase the supply of food products, and the massive presence of farmers in most
rural areas on the planet. Farming constitutes both the main activity in terms of income and
of occupation of the populations, and the main user of rural space. This is the reason why
these programmes focus above all on promoting a development of agricultural production and
productivity, in particular through technology transfer, the implementation of new technical
paradigms and the pursuit of higher returns, through the rationalization, mechanisation and
intensification of production. The green revolution is under way, for the greater benefit of
However, doubts and concerns are fast emerging as to whether these programmes are entirely
valid. Firstly because they focus essentially on the productive dimension without paying
much attention to the welfare of the populations and to their access to resources other than
food. Secondly because they take little consideration of the demands for equity or equality in
the treatment of individuals, and often favour the enrichment of some categories of people at
the expense of other groups who continue to live in poverty or in dependence. But also
because the ecological and environmental consequences (in relation to pesticides or water
resources for example) of these policies are seldom considered, or because the populations are
rarely included in the decisions thus made, decisions which they follow or are subjected to
rather than control or initiate. Finally, one major event has called into question the very
nature of these policies: it is the rural depopulation and the resulting loss of influence of the
farming activity in rural areas. It has become impossible in many regions, particularly in
Europe, to found a development or even a growth policy, exclusively on agriculture. Rural
economies are thus characterized by a loss of knowledge capital and know-how and of
population, as well as by a process through which a balance between farming and other,
tertiary or secondary activities can be reached (Marini & Mooney, 2006).
Some scholars then started to call into question the diffusionist paradigm and its validity.
Their works rest, in particular, on their revealing the limitations of the automatic transfer of
innovations and technologies, by placing emphasis on the obstacles to the diffusion resulting
from various types of social resistance, and from the limited competences of the local actors.
Furthermore, some recent research studies highlight the necessity of taking into account the
opinions of lo cal populations, including non farming populations, and of enabling civil
society to take part in decision making in matters of development (Chambers, 1994). In
parallel to this, the issue of empowerment in terms of competences and capacities of the local
actors, is slowly emerging in the literature, in particular following works such as those of Sen
(1999). The desire to ensure that the populations supposed to benefit from the development
processes are not sidelined, and that they participate in the decisions made about them or their
future, has lead a number of large international institutions to address the question and initiate
a debate about participate approaches to development (see for example the Neuchâtel group,
A first set of studies relate to the phenomena of learning and of knowledge acquisition by
local populations, at individual or collective level. These studies concentrate first of all on the
channels and means of diffusion of technical information - particularly that related to farming
activities - among lo cal actors, whether they be the material or social dimensions of this
diffusion. Thus, attention is placed on the development and diffusion of Information and
Communication Technologies (Richardson, 1995), put at the service of farmers, as well as on
the role of agricultural consultants in this process, deemed vital for the growth of agriculture.
But other works also examine how the diffusion takes place and the learning processes
established by the local populations, by focusing on the way knowledge is appropriated by the
actors and exchanged within groups (Falk and Harrison, 1998) rather than on the analysis of
the knowledge itself. As Coudel has highlighted (2009) "these approaches are based on the
concept of "community" understood as a group sharing common interests, goals or values
(this type of community may be a geographic entity, but not necessarily so). The aim is to
understand the learning mechanisms at play within these "communities" and to promote their
development. We refer first and foremost to approaches in terms of local (innovation)
networks, or even of development of a social capital, networks which link the local actors
within collective and shared dynamics. The development and reinforcement of these
communities, to which a good part of the population identifies, must allow for a faster
technical and social learning process, at the service of development and of the enrichment of
the local population (Murray, 2000). It is a systemic or network approach that is privileged
here and the highlighting of the importance of the linking and bridging relations in
A second group of research studies refer to the capability and empowerment dimensions, and
bring in the foreground the improvement of the capacities and competences of individuals
who live in rural areas. It is interesting to see that this is related to the conception of social
psychology, in the sense that it is the development of individuals that is put in the foreground,
even though one cannot separate the individuals from the group or groups to which they
belong. Originating in research studies centred around the notions of gender, racial minorities
and healthcare (Lincolm et al, 2002), the empowerment approaches are often used in Southern
countries, in relation to marginalized populations, such as peasants or small farmers, or
women. Indeed these approaches involve helping these marginalized populations improve
their own competences and capabilities and social integration, particularly through
experience-based learning. The capability-based approach, originating from Sen's Works, has
more individualistic foundations and rests on the idea that the actors must be free to choose
from a range of action possibilities offered by their environment. It is from the interaction
between individuals' desires and the constraints of the environment that the possibility to
control and act on one's material, economic and political environment emerge, for the benefit
of the development of individuals and social groups (Nusbaum, 2000). Of liberal inspiration,
these theories are based on an idea of social justice in which individuals are granted rights and
tools of intervention enabling them to attain their freedom, and therefore be able to choose
their own development path, taking into account, however, the reality of the environment.
A third and last group consists of the approaches that grant an important role to civil society,
by including in projects, decision making processes and local development initiation, not only
farmers and the public authorities, but also a whole range of mostly local actors. We have
here the question of territorial governance, which takes into account both the diversity of
opinions and their necessary reconciliation, as well as the multiplicity of stakeholders, who
play a rôle in the development process by pushing for the implementation of principles of
participative democracy (Berger, 2003). The defenders of these approaches seek to move
beyond those based on endogenous development by taking into account both the interests and
goals of the local populations and of the policies and directives from outside the territories,
governance being understood as a "government of compromise" , or as a process of multi-
level and multi-polar coordination in a decentralized and highly asymmetrical context (Jordan
et al, 2005). Thus, development first requires that oppositions and conflicts be overcome, so
as to rally the different parties around a common vision and project (Leeuwis, 2000), a
procedure based on an intense process of exchange, discussion and social learning, and which
can sometimes lead to the implementation of a process of territorial innovation. Thus, as
Coudel has highlighted (2009), these approaches give pride of place to development processes
rather than to the definition of targeted, or even quantifiable goals. This brings us back to one
of the initial dimensions of approaches to development, which places emphasis on evolutions,
and sometimes changes (little discussed here), rather than on the comparison of states or the
evaluation of the capacity to achieve goals. Here again we find the approaches in terms of
local systems, with studies in terms of Localized Agrifood Systems, that can be related to a
good part of the literature on localized production systems, of which they are a rural variation.
The question of development is addressed differently depending on the approaches. With
regards to the phenomena of learning and knowledge acquisition by local populations, the
idea is above all to facilitate the diffusion or establishment of new techniques, from which is
expected a productivity gain or a contribution to growth. For the research in terms of
capabilities and empowerment, the idea is more to develop the capacities or competences of
the population and to increase its level of awareness and know-how. Finally, the approaches
in terms of governance and participative democracy mostly see development as a happy
outcome of the implementation of governance processes based on the participation of the
population, the ironing out of oppositions and the definition of common projects.
It is difficult to synthesize these different approaches, but many authors now consider that a
new paradigm of rural development is emerging, a paradigm thought to be gaining autonomy
from the dominant agro-industrial production model based on the use of chemical input and
the health control of products, while developing an alternative representation of rural areas to
that of a dependence towards the phenomenon of urbanization (Roling & de Jong, 1998,
Marsden, 2006). Added to this is the emergence of issues related to the environment and
sustainable development, which strongly impact the conception of the activities conducted in
rural areas – particularly farming activities – and in fluence public policies and their
implementation at local level, in zoning matters in particular (Natura 2000, habitat directives,
green and blue belts...).
This new paradigm, accompanied by the rise of agroecology (Gliessman, 1990), is thought to
be emerging both in the practices and interventions of actors on the field and in public
policies. Rural development would then be seen as a multi level, multi actors and multi
dimension process, corresponding to responses to the limitations of the modernisation
paradigm (van der Ploeg et al, 2000). A multi level process, first of all, in terms of diversity
of the policies and institutions aimed to address the question of rural development, as well as
of evolution in the relationships between agricultural and society, with account being taken of
the production of public goods, the development of a new model of agricultural production
integrating the interactions between farming and other activities and the combination of
activities at the scale of enterprises in rural areas. A multi-actor processes, with interactions
between farmers and rural actors and the rural development policies aimed at generating new
articulations between the "local" and the "global", but also at restoring the legitimacy of the
local leaders or minimize clientelism. Finally, it is a multi dimensional process in that rural
development takes place in the form of different practices, some of which are still developing
and can be interconnected (landscape management, nature conservation, agritourism, organic
agriculture, specific farming products, short distribution circuits...), so that elements
considered superfluous in the modernist paradigm acquire new roles in the relations between
farms, but also between farmers and urban populations.
III.2. Rural development policies
For a long time centred around agricultural issues, rural development policies have, since the
1990s, undergone important shifts and a diversification towards a better management,
exploitation and preservation of local resources, towards the provision of support to
enterprises and commercial activities of the secondary and tertiary sectors, towards
maintaining or in creasing populations in rural areas (residential logic) and towards the
organization of the territory; these changes testify to the permanence of interventions that
have undeniable, albeit contrasted, effects, and to the assertion that the spatial dimension has
always been more or less integrated into agricultural policies. However, for a long time this
involved successive generations of mechanisms covering a wide scope of interventions rather
than a general and coherent policy.
Almost all over the world new policies of rural development are being implemented, policies
that take various forms according to the rural areas and their preferences in terms of
development: mass farming production, production of quality products, residential
development or touristic activities. The policies centred on supporting agriculture and the
maintenance of activities are being replaced by an approach taking into account the variety of
the activities present in rural areas: new industries, tourism, the introduction of ICT, cultural
dynamics...(OECD, 2009a). At the same time, the principle of bottom-up regulation and
support have been competing with collective arrangements involving State representatives
and various other stakeholders, first among which are lo cal public authorities and
associations. Finally, the link between the rural worlds and urban zo nes is increasingly
brought to the fore at the expense of an approach targeting the isolated rural areas.
This trend can be observed in Europe, where the multi-functionality of the territories and the
diversity of the populations occupying them are increasingly taken into account (OECD
2009b). One cannot really talk of a European rural development policy as such, but rather of
interventions of various natures that combine elements of support provided by the States and
the EU with local initiatives (Guérin, 2008), and which are not just reduced to the rural
development policies. They are undertaken at the level of the national and regional planning
policies, as well as of the sector-specific mechanisms in favour of agriculture, the habitat,
land, the environment or of tourism in rural areas.
The current European rural development policy has a three-fold origin, which makes its
outlines unclear and the identification of its objectives difficult (Delgado and Ramos, 2002):
The structural component of the agricultural policy, with the support to the process of
modernisation and adjustment farming enterprises;
The environmental component of the agricultural policy, with the taking into account
of the non commercial functions of agricultural;
The component "agricultural and rural development" of the regional policy or regional
Number of the interventions are implemented in the framework of the Common Agricultural
Policy (CAP), which has been successively revised since 1992. The measures implemented
as part of the first pillar of the CAP have, on the whole, paid off, and have helped to partly
reduce the important imbalances, particularly on the cereal, beef and milk markets. However,
the questioning of the efficiency of the agricultural policies, the costs of the financial support
and changes in rural land uses have lead to replace the financial aids with direct interventions
at local level; This has been done through the second pillar of the CAP (Midmore et al, 2008),
which is related to rural development.
Though the agricultural market policy remains the cornerstone of the CA P, the rural
development component appears to have become an important issue. Thus, the 2000 Agenda
includes in one mechanism, the new common agricultural policy and the structural measures
aimed at strengthening the economic and social cohesion in the European Union for the 2007-
2013 period. The complementarity of the two pillars has been reinforced by the introduction
of three major principles: "decoupling", "cross-compliance" and "modulation", implemented
since 2005. The first pillar now concentrates on providing a basic income support to farmers,
whilst the 2
pillar supports rural areas in their development as well as agriculture as a
provider of public goods in its environmental and rural functions.
This diversification of the European support to rural areas is not entirely decoupled from the
activity of farming enterprises, but comes in increasingly sophisticated forms, integrating the
high value added by the services provided, and therefore the labour performed. It is the case
for example of farm-based food catering activities, of mail-order services or of the sale of
baskets (Pretty et al, 2005). It can also bring about more radical transformations of the farms,
when it is related to landscape maintenance functions, recreational activities or person-to-
person services. Thus, in addition to rural development come the functions of protection of
fragile agricultural systems and of renewal of the food supply and of promotion of local food
products (Renting et al, 2003). The privileged areas of development – peri-urban agriculture,
protected areas such as nature parks or protected coastline – bring to light the externalities
produced by these vertically extended types of agriculture, destined to urban or peri-urban
Furthermore, measures are being implemented to compensate for the inequalities between
urban and rural areas in terms of income, education and access to basic commodities. Thus,
the four generations of the Leader programmes have, since 1991, played a determinant role in
the setting up of initiatives for the development of rural areas and have contributed to the
diffusion of multi actor governance principles, of partnership approaches between private and
public actors, of territorial approaches promoting the emergence of project territories, as well
as the networking and sharing of experiences. Finally, the agro-environmental measures –
main instruments in favour of the environment – are only now gaining a significant place.
Their purpose is to compensate for the loss of income resulting from the implementation of
good agricultural practices, through direct financial support to farmers. A good part of the
debate now relates to the inclusion of rural actors other than farmers in the creation of these
Today, the EC rural development policy rests essentially on two presuppositions (Perrier-
Cornet, 2010). The prevailing conception of rural development remains that of extended rural
development: Most measures consist of direct support to farmers. To a lesser degree, this
orientation is combined to a theory of economic action which pertains above all to issues of
endogenous development in different forms. Support to agricultural diversification, Leader
approach, an improved management and exploitation of specific local resources, etc., are
privileged as motors of territorial growth and development. Generally speaking, the question
of regional development is not addressed by rural development policies, despite the
structuring role of this issue, particularly through the relations between cities and rural areas,
in a large part of European rural areas. This characteristic tends to overshadow - both from
the point of view of economic action theories and of the search for factors of territories'
competitiveness – the positive economic knock-on and diffusion effects of urban growth on
However, this general finding must be viewed in relation to the great flexibility of the EC
rural development policy. In so far as the latter rests on co-funding by member states and the
almost free choice of measures the second pillar package (with the exclusion of some
environmental measures), the programmes of rural development of the members States or
European regions differ noticeably, and form a complex mosaic, reflecting the diversity of the
priorities and the balances of power.
For a long time characterized by the multiplicity of funds and the large number of actors
involved, the policies of rural development have therefore been faced with a diversification of
the paths of evolution of rural areas, and at the same time have had to include new goals such
as risk prevention and the limitation of the negative effects on resources. Consequently, the
often complex evaluation of the coherence, relevance and effects of these programmes raises
methodological problems (Guérin, 2008).
The policies concerning rural areas face two major issues related to the question of the new
rural paradigm mentioned above:
agriculture remains an entirely inescapable activity because it is the basis of human
subsistence and occupies a large part of the planet's land area in order to be able to
meet those needs. However, its role now goes beyond the production of food
products, and includes, for example the maintenance of the countryside, or can serve
as a means of protecting land against urbanization...;
The characteristics and methods and practices of agriculture can no longer result from
farmers' decisions only. Farmers must take into account the opinions of other local
actors, whether in relation to the management of rural land, questions of pollution,
agro-ecology, nature conservation...but also to peri-urban areas, the demands of urban
consumers in terms of modes of production and types of products;
Rural development is decided and managed by the different families of stakeholders:
the producers on the one hand, but also residents, associations, the actors of the
cooperative and voluntary sectors, the local or decentralized public authorities. The
ways decisions and rural development projects are undertaken correspond increasingly
to territorial modes of governance that involve different stakeholders participating in
the decision making process (Torre and Traversac, 2010);
This multi-level governance process has two characteristics. It depends on the wide
variety of local actors, of lo cal networks with their social, economic and political
implications, but also involves global actors (national and supranational) who impose
constraints, regulations and rules from the outside. This process can occasionally be
filled with contradictions, as in the case of the European community in which are
combined an increasing weight of the commission in matters of regulations and the
diffusion of principles of subsidiarity and decentralization which gives regions more
opportunities for initiative.
III.3. Rural development: towards a theory of action?
The theoretical approaches to rural development are for the most part based on detailed field
surveys rather than on academic theory or modelling. The analyses are meant to be based on
concrete experiences, as well as on the taking into account of the behaviours and strategies of
the private, public or associations' actors. Recommendations follow findings and are
accompanied by concrete implementations, the impact of which is evaluated, often by
comparing them with a catalogue of predefined goals . The constitution of groups of actors is
encouraged, conflict resolution methods based on protocols and guides for action.
This analysis is accompanied by a reflection on public policies that takes two forms. Firstly,
a critical analysis has been made of the policies implemented, of their key features and their
limitations. Thus, the example of the European Leader Programmes is an important source of
reflection and comments. Secondly, a large part of the research conducted on the question
aims at the implementation of new rural development policies and of recommendations to
public decision makers: there is an expressed need to translate the reflection into concrete
measures and operational solutions that can produce results in the near future and a desire to
serve the actors of development. Let us mention here the questions of territorial engineering,
developed in parallel with the processes of decentralization and with the decentralization and
acquisition of new local competences, at the crossroads between field methods and reflection
about the construction of development projects.
This has given rise to a conception of rural development based on two main components.
Firstly, its field of application reached far beyond the economic dimensions. This is not only
Perroux' idea (growth + integration of human and social factors) that is at stake, but also the
fact that the competencies of the populations and their participation to the decision making
process related to development choices have become central. Secondly, the choice of
development projects is made according to a delicate trade-off between different, local or
supra-local lobbies and stakeholders with various ideas and interests, and who make
temporary deals for their own sake and that of the territory. The different development paths
then take the form of trial and error processes, according to whether the choices prove
favourable or give rise to oppositions and conflicts leading to new dynamics.
Thus, the concept of rural development is at once deeply ambiguous and highly promising.
Indeed, although it has been reintegrated into the framework of programmes of more or less
complex local public actions, rural development is in fact a largely autonomous process, one
that is self-maintained by local actors (Van der Ploeg et al, 2000). A large number of
practices are not directly initiated by national or European State policies and result from the
implementation of local projects, supported and managed by different local actors, territorial
project management mechanisms, by skills acquired through trial and error processes or
through the transposition of models tested outside the rural arena, for example within large
organizations. As a result, rural development is a heuristic mechanism, the purpose of which
is above all to seek new futures and to reflect not only the policies but also the efforts and
projects of the local populations. Understanding this model and the profound paradigmatic
changes it causes and which affect it might well require new theories reflecting its networks,
interactions, practices and new identities.
This article has aimed to shed light on the questions of territorial development and rural
development - the relation between which were for a long time relatively unexplored - and to
identify the links between them and the differences that oppose them. Centred on regional
growth, agglomeration effects and urban phenomena, the regional science theories have paid
little attention to the processes of rural development, besides the now obsolete functionalist
conception of rural space being dedicated to agricultural production.
An analysis of the literature and of public interventions shows that the disjunction between
both approaches now tends to be fading out and that policies and academic analyses are
coming closer together around common watchwords such as territory, governance,
subsidiarity, innovation or local systems. However, there remain important differences, if
only the fact that there is a unified corpus of ideas in the field of regional development and
policies, whereas approaches to rural development correspond more to a patchwork of field
research, theoretical intuition and intervention practices that set themselves up as an action
theory. Though they often consider the territory as a privileged field or context of application,
it is above all the institutional dimension that prevails, with the taking into account of targeted
measures, administrative zo ning or boundaries, combined with development methods and
field experiences carried by stakeholders, consultants, and territorial management
While integration into the knowledge-based economy now requires of policy makers a high
level of invention and experimentation that questions the relationships between public actors
and stakeholders at a time when States' financial capacities are increasingly low, sustainable
development, globalization, the new processes and factors of production and innovation call
for a reinvention of the outlines of and levers for rural development. Thus, the rise of peri-
urbanisation, the recognition of eco-systemic services and of agricultural multi-functionality,
the search for sustainability, the change in the economic structures of rural areas and in the
sources of wealth creation, all contribute to the emergence of a new paradigm, the political
translation of which still often confuses rural development for agricultural development.
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