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Methodological fallacies and perceptions of rural disparity: How rural proofing addresses real versus abstract needs
- Sherry, Erin, Shortall, Sally
- Journal of rural studies 2019 v.68 pp. 336-343
- European Union, issues and policy, rural areas, England, Northern Ireland
- In 2016, the EU committed to ‘rural proofing’ its policies. Rural proofing has now become a priority across Europe. Prior to this, rural proofing or mainstreaming, the reviewing of universal policies to ensure comparable treatment of rural areas, was relatively unique to England and Northern Ireland. The first case of legislating rural proofing has occurred with The Rural Needs Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. Qualitative data was collected from civil and public servants with experience of pre-legislative ‘rural proofing’, as well as those facing new responsibilities under the Act. Additional data was obtained from key informants active in agricultural, environmental, and rural organisations. Several key findings emerge, all underpinned by a central issue: that the approach entirely stands on an assumption of rural disadvantage, the nature of which is never articulated. We argue that this is not driven by a lack of evidence, but by a more fundamental problem: the pervasiveness of viewing rural issues through a lens tinted by methodological fallacies. Failure to correct for these weaknesses by means of a dynamic theory of rural leads to flawed policy, because it is designed to treat disparity rather than accommodate diversity. In other words, it is premised on a binary of urban/rural. The findings of this research will inform the development of rural proofing policies going forward.