Handling complexity through dialogue and methdological eclecticism: monitoring economic diversification in rural areas

Authors and Affiliations: 

Anna Verhoeve, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, Social Sciences Unit, Merelbeke, Belgium.


Stig Roar Svenningsen,  Royal Danish Library, Department of Maps and Prints, Copenhagen, Denmark


The gradual conversion from an agriculturally-based  to a much more diversified economy, is commonly accepted as an important driving force for land-use and landscape change across Europe. One important aspect of such processes is the way existing resources and landscape elements are reinvented to support changing functions in the landscape. The  re-use of rural buildings by non-agricultural entrepreneurs is an example of such processes, which form part of a widespread  trend  for  economic diversification in rural landscapes. This contribution reports on  the methodological results of an in-depth  survey of  economic diversification processes in the Belgian countryside and aims to discuss the way theoretical preconceptions and paradigms frame empirical findings . A discussion which takes its point of departure in a specific empirical context and spells out the difficult interplay between theory and field experience when studying complex processes of functional landscape change. A detailed account of examples of empirical research is given, highlighting the theoretical-methodological challenges involved in the design, performance, redesign, reinterpretation  and documentation of empirical methods and results. On this basis it is argued that while theoretical models may be effective as an aid in interpreting landscape change and land use, they may also be dangerous friends which can disrupt lines of reasoning developed during fieldwork. It is discussed how such challenges may be overcome, based on the fieldwork experiences gathered.