Regional differentiation

On 2 March my MSc course “Understanding Rural Development: Theories, Practices and Methodologies” started (also see the course outline). This course is specifically designed for the specialization Sociology of Rural Development of the Master in International Development Studies, but is open to students from other Master programmes as well. At this moment 14 students (from Columbia, Germany, Ghana, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and South Africa) are participating. Each week we focus on one particular theme that I consider to be highly relevant to better understand rural and regional development dynamics.

This week’s theme was “Regional differentiation”, which refers to the fact that rural regions are moving along distinct and different development trajectories. During the last decades a vast body of scientific literature about regional differentiation has been developed, although a substantial part of this literature is characterised by an urban bias towards regional development. Terry Marsden and Jonathan Murdoch are among the few scholars that have explicitly included the rural in theories of regional differentiation. With their conceptualisation of regional differentiation as the outcome of different constellations of political, economic and social networks they have been able to significantly contribute to contemporary theories about regional development that also take the rural into account.

Although it is important that students are introduced to these concepts, I want to avoid that theoretical insights remain abstract notions. That’s why students are also introduced to empirical realities (through field trips, presentation of case studies from research projects and (short) movies). This week we looked at five movie clips about regional development in Southwest Minnesota. Together these five clips very well showed some of the key factors impacting on changes in regional political, economic and social networks: migration, utilization of endogenous resources, learning and innovation (learning region), technologies, and visionary leadership. More in general the case of Southwest Minnesota shows that regional development is a specific combination of endogenous and exogenous development, or,  a specific local response to global developments.