Changing landscapes and rural-urban awareness: Conceptualizing rurality and urbanity through the prism of experiential space

Authors and Affiliations: 

Mirek Dymitrow

University of Gothenburg, Department of Economy and Society


Throughout the developed world, rural areas are in economic, social, and visible transition, to a significant degree as a result of urbanization. Realizing that a changing society is in constant need of redefinition, the rural-urban distinction is especially important to look into on a systematic basis. One reason is that although the outdatedness of the rural-urban dichotomy is widely acknowledged it is still largely sustained, not least in rural and urban development policies which are still conducted separately. Such practice may seem questionable in the face of the progressive blurring of these concepts, making them all the more subjective. In that light, there is a need to capture that subjectivity’s logic and anchor it locally, where the effects of policy eventually materialize. As such, taking into account the perception of local residents could help mitigate the subjectivity enclosed in the referential framework of those who exert power, mainly specialists and planners.

In this paper, it is assumed that the concepts of rurality and urbanity are not only a result of the changing conditions in particular places but also of the changing theoretical perspectives on what is regarded rural or urban. In result, both tracks equally affect the material – i.e. the very real – lives of people who inhabit these areas. Ultimately, when some seemingly innocuous awareness-shaping processes coupled with the broader concepts of rural and urban are ignored, there may be ramifications when the locally perceived and the centrally defined fail to converge.

Consequently, this paper is not about ideas on how ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ areas should be organized and managed. Rather, it foregoes such actions by focusing on the cognitive phase that precedes any kind of labeled development. By assuming a humanistic perspective, the concepts of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ are discussed with emphasis on local perception and experiential space as important factors in their current understanding. There are indications that this dimension is locally significant and that the perception of rurality/urbanity is much derived from the physical characteristics of the lived environment, despite the rural and urban having been lately largely regarded as social constructs. In light of the critique of the emergent material turn, the potential of the concept of ‘landscape’ is explored, here seen as a bridge holding together the physical and the subjective tenets of rural-urban awareness. It is argued it could serve as a useful conceptual tool for creating context of the conflicting envoys on how rurality/urbanity should be understood, and particularly so in times of extensive land use changes induced by urbanization.

Keywords:  rural-urban, experiential space, local perception, landscape, conceptualization.