Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk

Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

Un-accomplishing the Rural FutureRobert FishWhy the Future, Now?The purpose of this paper is to provide a short critique of an emergent set of policypractices concerned with the envisioning of rural futures. It does so by inspectingrecent efforts to storyboard the futures of ‘English countryside’, a category whosemeanings and functions are being recast within the ordinary policy realm as well asbeing increasingly opened up by new forms of experimentation in space-time.Alongside conventional assessments of the challenges now facing rural areas, such asthe recent Rural White Paper, the Curry Report, and the Haskins Report; one of thegovernment’s recent initiatives in the area of futures research - the Department forEnvironment, Food and Rural Affair’s (DEFRA) Horizons Scanning programme - hasrecently flagged up a concern with future landscapes as one of its four priority themes,in which discussions of countryside loom large. Furthermore, one of the foremostquasi-state organisations shaping the terms of this debate, the Countryside Agency,has recently published a highly projective State of the Countryside 2020 report,conducted with the help of futurologists working for the Tomorrow Project, anindependent charity that has embarked on “a programme of research, consultation andcommunication about people's lives in the next twenty years”(www.tomorrowproject.net).The entrance of futures work is arguably one of the more interesting, yet somewhatperplexing, recent developments in the public policy arena. After all, a desire to tameand accomplish unruly future time is a condition of the policy making process, so whyis it the case that state apparatus are now readily creating programmes of work thatseek to differentiate themselves from, or better still, exceed this standing concern?And why is it the case that through this process a whole network of otherorganisations, institutes and foundations explicitly using rural ‘futures’ as ananalytical category to guide their work are now being enrolled into the strategic effortsof policy discourse? The answer to these questions is perhaps not hard to fathom. Inone significant sense, the parameters of this new trajectory of thought and practicereflect perceived limits in the ordinary machinery of governance. They reflect thefeeling that the methods and mindsets of policy work are too preoccupied with fillingin the operational details of short-term planning cycles to grasp an increasinglyunstable and uncertain tomorrow.This logic is neither peculiar to our times nor to the work of public policy. Threedecades ago Bundy (1976, p.67) wrote of an embryonic futures movement drawn fromdiverse sectors of economy and society and which, among other things, was built outof “a profound fear of impending catastrophe unless interventions occur in time”. Theorigins of such a movement have been well rehearsed (Schwartz, 1998; Ogilvy 2002).Typically, they are traced back to the planning departments of large commercialoperations, particularly the work of Royal Dutch/Shell and its efforts to changesedentary ways of thinking about future markets for oil in the early 1970s. State and81

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