Topic: Revisiting the ‘Politics of the Rural’ in the Age of Populism
Keywords: Rural Politics, Rural Protest, Populism
A recurrent feature of the recent rise of populist or insurgent political movements in several parts of the world – ranging from the Brexit vote in the UK, increased support for right-wing nationalist and populist parties in Europe, to the elections of Trump in the USA and Bolsonaro in Brazil – has been an apparent rural-urban cleavage in voting patterns. Rural support for populist or insurgent candidates and positions has been associated in public discourse with economic marginalization in the context of globalization and political and cultural disconnection with perceived ‘metropolitan liberal elites’. However, rural discontent is not new. There have been sporadic rural protest movements – some with an electoral dimension – in several countries since the 1990s. In earlier research (Woods, 2003, Journal of Rural Studies), I linked these movements to the disruption of settled rural policy regimes and a shift from a ‘rural politics’ to a ‘politics of the rural’ in which the meaning and management of rurality was the core issue of concern. This presentation positions recent expressions of rural populism in this longer trajectory. It traces connections between earlier rural protest movements and contemporary populist movements and considers whether the ‘politics of the rural’ thesis can be employed to understand recent political developments. The presentation draws on data from a number of previous studies of rural politics and protests undertaken since 2000 in the UK, USA, France, Australia and Brazil – including data from interviews and questionnaire surveys with activists, field observation and analysis of media reports and election results – and combines this with an initial analysis of contemporary evidence from secondary sources including media reports and election data. The paper aims in part to outline an agenda for possible further research.