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RESEARCH

These fall into half a dozen loose categories which are partly chronological: (scroll down to read more about each category)

1. Economic and Social Impacts of Tourism
2. Agrarian Change, Pluriactivity and Multufunctionality
3. Land Reform
4. Less Mobile and Less Tangible Factors in Economic Development
5. Local Development and Sustainable Development
6. Information and Communications Technologies in Rural Areas
7. Rural Innovation Systems, Renewable Energy and Water Issues

My interest in the economic and social impacts of tourism goes back to my early days working as a post-graduate student and then as a professional in the Caribbean. While at UWI, I did a small study of the decline in domestic agriculture in the Eastern Caribbean islands, and learned that the tourism industry – especially the largely foreign owned ‘luxury’ sub-sector – imported most of its food requirements, and that domestic food crops were neglected in comparison with export crops both in public policies and in research programmes. I was seconded as research assistant to the Tripartite Economic Survey of the Caribbean for some three months, working both on agriculture (with David Edwards) and on tourism (with Hector Hawkins). I also worked (with Dick Sargent) on the input-output models for the small islands, based on Carleen O’Loughlin’s earlier work. The result showed what I considered to be surprisingly low income and employment multipliers for the tourism industry, which contradicted some of the sometimes very optimistic literature!

After a brief spell working as the economist on the Caribbean and Latin America desk in the economic planning staff of the Ministry of Overseas Development in London, I was fortunate to join Athole Macintosh’s Overseas Development Group at the young University of East Anglia, and signed up to do a PhD on the economic and social impacts of Tourism in the Caribbean. Shortly after I was seconded back to the Caribbean as regional development advisor, and it was during this time that I was able to gather more data and observe more closely the impacts of tourism. At the ODG I was lucky to meet my life long friend and sometimes colleague the anthropologist Keith Hart (see www.thememorybank.com), who widened my horizons, and also took some interest in my tourism project.

Partly for family reasons, I left UEA in 1972 to join the Highlands and Islands Development Board in Inverness, Scotland, initially on secondment, but after 1975 as a permanent move. This took me back into agriculture and rural development, and I was active in developing links with the European Commission from the start. As a development economist, I took an interest in how development theories applied to the periphery of Europe, and joined Dudley Seers (by now Director of the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex, but actually my ‘boss’ when I was with ODM in London) and others in the European Peripheries Group of the European Association of Development and Training Institutes. Like myself, most of the members of this group felt that development studies should not be confined to the so-called ‘developing countries’, but should also be undertaken in rich countries, where core-periphery tendencies had been observed by several writers, such as the Swede Gunnar Myrdal. This was for me the transition to research in the development of the European periphery, and hence rural and remote regions, which has remained a core focus of my work.

During my time with HIDB, I was also heavily involved in modest land reform proposals, and also consultation on these proposals which the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Bruce Millan, asked the HIDB to undertake. The then Chairman, Ken Alexander, was a wonderful man to work with on this topic, but our optimism came to an abrupt end with the election of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979. I duly resigned my post.

One of the Scottish landlords who was positive to our land reform proposals was John Higgs, famer, landowner, agrarian and rural historian. John and David Moore had just set up the Arkleton Trust, and I had been involved with two of their early international seminars on rural issues. I resigned from HIDB, and the Trust gave me their first Fellowship award to look at the institutional approaches to rural development in Europe. Shortly after, I attended a meeting of the Trust’s international advisory committee held in Uig, the Western isles, and soon after that I was asked to be the Trust’s programme director. The Trust supported my focus on rural Europe, and my wish to develop related research activities. Its annual international seminars provided a huge opportunity for networking. I met several people through the Trust who became seminal for the development of the research programme – Tony Fuller from Guelph, Elena Saraceno from Fruili in Italy, Patrick Commins from Ireland, Howard Newby (then at University of Essex and setting up what became the ERSC data archive), Sophia Esftratoglou from Athens, Miren Etxezarreta from Barcelona, Michael Tracy from the EU Council of Ministers,  Susan Sechler then at the Aspen Institute in Washington, to name but a few. The ensuing activities led to the first large scale European research project – on structural change and farm household pluriactivity for which Tony Fuller was the external advisor, and about which more below.

For this project we had to establish The Arkleton Trust (Research) Ltd, a not for profit company limited by guarantee, and, to meet the challenges of fast communications between the 60 or so researchers involved in 12 countries over 6 years we had to develop our own email and computer conferencing system, ‘Rurtel’, with yours truly as system operator!  Rurtel took me into the fast developing world of Information and Communications Technologies, and it allowed me to coordinate a large European research project from a converted barn in our small Scottish highland farm at Nethy Bridge!  I have also to mention the University of Guelph here because it was John Black, the librarian at Guelph, who put me onto the conferencing and mail system which we used for ‘Rurtel’ (under licence). I have a nice memory of him demonstrating the system to me in his hotel room in Paris, where he hot-wired his computer to the old fashioned telephone box. That explains my excursions into the research in the impacts of ICTs in rural regions.

One outcome of the pluriactivity project – which included studies of the rural-regional contexts – was a clear understanding of how different rural regions in Europe were developing in very different ways. Partly because of our parallel transatlantic activities with the Aspen Institute and USDA in the US and the new Agriculture and Rural Restructuring Group (AARG, later CRRF) in Canada (the joint exchange programme on rural policy issues), the OECD established a rural programme in 1991, and they further explored this differentiation of rural regions, showing in 1994 that some were doing rather well, even compared with fast growing urban regions, while others were lagging behind, sometimes terminally so. This new evidence, and discussions around it, led to our new comparative research proposal on the Dynamics of Rural Areas (DORA), which was funded in 1998 by the European Commission. In this project, for which Keith Hart was external advisor, we studied both tangible and less tangible factors which could help us to understand why some rural regions – even in peripheral areas of Europe – were doing better than others, using mixed methods.

One of the findings of the DORA research was that successful rural regions made much better use of their natural and cultural assets than others, and this and related work in the late 1990s and early 2000’s led to a growing focus on the role of so-called ‘public goods’ in territorial rural development. This thinking led to the TOP-MARD project, developed while I spend some time with Chuck Fluharty and Tom Johnson at the rural policy research institute (RUPRI) in the US in the early 2000’s. In TOP-MARD we used systems thinking to explore the inter-relationships between farming, public goods, non farming enterprises, quality of life, migration and public policies. Tom Johnson (whose system dynamics classes I attended while in the US) became external advisor for this project.

I hope this too-lengthy introduction will explain the relationship between the different research projects and activities discussed below in a coherent way. I hope it may also help those young researchers setting out on their careers, especially considering the importance of collaboration and comparative research.

1. Economic and Social Impacts of Tourism

My PhD research on the economic and social impacts of tourism in the Caribbean was said to be influential, and received some good reviews. It was much cited in the subsequently growing literature on tourism and development, and was the first significant academic critique of the overstated claims for tourism’s positive impacts in ‘developing’ countries. It also applied both Input-Output techniques and Cost-Benefit Analysis to the topic. Although I did not become a ‘tourism expert’ (by choice) I undertook further and similar work in the Seychelles in the early 1980s while part of an Institute of Development Studies (Sussex) Mission on Employment, and I wrote a number of related articles and monographs on the subject.  I also did some comparative work between EU and Canada on ‘rural tourism’ in the 1990’s, and, having an interest in rural development I keep an interest in rural tourism as part of that. I also reviewed a number of books and articles, some of which whole a commissioning editor for the Annals of Tourism Research. Finally, I was a Founding Fellow of the International Academy of Tourism.

2. Agrarian Change, Pluriactivity and Multufunctionality

I believe my work on agrarian change, farm household pluriactivity and multifunctionality represents a contribution to methodology, literature, and ideas on the change role and function of agriculture in Europe’s rural areas, and has early roots in work undertaken on agrarian change and rural economy in the 1970’s while at the HIDB, during which time I wrote a book with George Houston on Agrarian Change in the Highlands and Islands as well as commissioning research on the income sources of crofters (small farmers). As Director of the Arkleton Trust, I organised an international seminar on Farm Household Pluriactivity in 1983, and shortly after that undertook a review for the European Commission of Pluriactivity in Europe with Tony Fuller from Guelph. This work led directly to the research programme on structural change and farm household pluriactivity in Europe which was a 12-country longitudinal study of farm households and their surrounding rural areas involving 24 study areas and some 7,000 farm households covering the period 1986-1993. It was and remains the largest independent body of research and evidence on structural change and farm household pluriactivity undertaken in Europe, and major funding was received from the European Commission and the UK Economic and Social Research Council, among others. It influenced EU thinking about pluriactivity and the treatment of pluriactive farmers in the structural and later rural policies of the Union, and about the importance of territorial rural development for the livelihoods and hence survival of farm families. Involving over 60 researchers across Europe, the programme had a major influence on a new cadre of researchers, some of whom later became major policy players in the European Commission and the OECD, as well as national Governments.  It is notable that the majority of the academic speakers and panel members at the Cork Conference in 1996 were former researchers or team leaders in this project. More recently, I developed the 11-country 3-year research project called ‘Towards a Policy Model of Multifunctional Agriculture and Rural Development’ (TOP-MARD) which was funded under the EU’s Framework 6 Programme, and which applied dynamic systems modelling (again for the first time in Europe) to investigate the relationship between the public and private goods (and bads) produced by agriculture, the development of rural regions or ‘territories’, and a range of actual or potential policies and policy scenarios. This project, which ended in 2008, has considerable academic and policy interest already, in the EU but also in Japan and the USA. It has led to a number of papers and articles, including one in Eurochoices, and a book published by Routledge. I am also working with Keith Hart, the Economic Anthopologist, on a book on Agrarian Change which will be part historical, and part forward-looking to what may be termed the ‘Fourth Agrarian Revolution’ which most people believe necessary to double food production globally in the next 25-30 years. This project started in the 1980s, and is progressing slowly!

In addition to the foregoing, I have made two small contributions to the literature on the modern economic history of Scottish Agriculture, and several on changes in European agriculture.

Finally I have recently contributed to the major work of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh on the Ethnography of Scotland with a chapter on Scottish rural communities in the 21st Century.

3. Land Reform

I have made several academic and policy contributions on the land reform issue in Scotland since the 1970s, when I spearheaded the HIDB’s proposals for land reforms, and undertook much of the public discussion on these. My main policy contributions were made prior to and during the Land Reform Policy Group which prepared the proposals for Land Reform in Scotland after the labour party won the 1997 election and in the run-up to Scottish parliamentary devolution in 1999, and thereafter as a member of the Scottish Land Fund which provided significant support to rural communities wishing to acquire land. My publications on this topic include the John McEwen Lecture in 1995, several conference papers around the time of the 1997 UK elections, and most recently in an article (2007) for Land Use Policy with Dr Charles Geisler of Cornell University, and one for ‘The Crofter’ in 2007. The article with Charles Geisler has been revised and updated for a Reader on Community Land Trusts edited by John Davis and published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

4. Less Mobile and Less Tangible Factors in Economic Development

My research on less mobile and less tangible factors in rural development, started in 1994, has led to one author describing this aspect of my work as ‘Bryden’s Theory’ of rural development (Terluin, 2003: Journal of Rural Studies), and led to a large research project, with a multinational group of colleagues, on the dynamics of rural areas, which has influenced a suite of subsequent research projects, ideas about rural development in the European Commission and OECD, and the practice of rural development agencies. This EU Framework IV project assessed the tangible and less tangible factors explaining ‘differential economic performance’ between rural areas in the same kind of policy and geographical context, and used a ‘matched pairs’ approach for this first time in this kind of analysis. It was stimulated both by the research on farm structures and household pluriactivity, which highlighted the importance of surrounding rural economies for the welfare of farm households, and the OECD work on rural indicators which demonstrated differential economic performance in rural regions. The project had 16 study areas in four widely varying countries of the EU, eight pairs of well performing and less well-performing ‘rural counties’ in eight regions, and led to a book, many conference papers all over the world, and some journal articles. This research gave rise to several follow up projects and papers, mainly dealing with the question of how to assess a ‘healthy rural community’, and developing relevant indicators. More recently, the core question in DORA, namely what makes Rural Regions more, or less, (sustainably) competitive, has come to the fore in a spate of EU and national research projects and other activity, including the EDORA project. Many of the issues addressed in DORA formed key elements in my keynote address in the opening plenary of the EU Salzburg Conference in November 2003 ( See http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/events/salzburg/index_en.htm). The work paralleled the work undertaken in Canada by Bill Reimer and Colleagues on ‘New Rural Economy’, and influenced subsequent research projects on similar topics in the UK, Australia, Latin America, the EU and India.

5. Local Development and Sustainable Development

During my period as Winegard Visiting Professor at the University of Guelph in 1994, I organised a series of seminars on ‘sustainable rural communities’ which was designed as an inter-disciplinary series to feed into Guelph’s new cross-disciplinary PhD programme on Sustainable Development. As a result of this successful series, I produced a book containing the papers presented at the series and three Chapters by myself at the beginning and end. This book was made available in French and English, and was later published in Japanese by the Japanese Rural Development Institute at their own expense.  The interest in concepts of sustainability and sustainable rural communities has been sustained, and I wrote two book chapter on the topic with Professor Mark Shucksmith in the later 1990’s and early 2000’s, as well as undertaking reports for two large NGOs and preparing a think-piece for the new Countryside Agency in England. In collaboration with colleagues at UHIMI, I have organised a highly popular seminar series on ‘A sustainable Highlands and islands for 2020’ over a 10 month period in 2006-7, where leaders of public and private agencies are talking about their vision for sustainability in the region. There is no doubt that this series has been and remains influential in crossing environmental-economic-and social boundaries and influencing Agency policies. The series is also being used to provide teaching and learning materials on-line, and to identify new research and teaching needs. I was also joint supervisor of a PhD student in this field. As programme Director of The Arkleton Trust I was also responsible for the Trust’s Theme programme for 2006-8 on Rural Community Preparedness and Resilience in relation to Climate Change impacts, and helped to select four Fellows to work on this from India, Bhutan, Finland and Venezuela as well as organising an International advisory Committee and seminar on the topic. I also collaborated with Keith Hart and others on a new book on ‘The Human Economy’ for Polity Press, Cambridge, where I wrote the Chapter on Local Development. I also contributed think-papers on Sustainable Rural Communities to the Commission for Rural Communities in England, and to the Committee on Crofting Reform in Scotland. The books resulting  from the DORA and TOP-MARD projects are also very relevant to this theme.

A key theme in ‘sustainable development’  arising from DORA in the first instance is  that of rural-urban equivalence – the question of the human rights of citizens to be treated equally in both rural and urban regions. This right is very strong in the social democratic Nordic countries and somewhat present in other OECD countries. However, it has been challenged by the ‘Washington consensus’, ‘Globalisation’. ‘privatisation’ and new public management among other processes of the last quarter century or more. The issues are also linked to the very large and active debate in India about whether economic growth should have ‘priority’ over social development (education, health, rural development etc). I have explored this issue with colleagues in both Europe and India and one outcome is a very recent paper on the topic made available on this website.  The treatment of rising inequality in many if not most countries of the world by economists – i.e. inequality can either be ignored, or is necessary for growth – has been one of the most disturbing aspects of modern economics, and one from which I distance myself.  It is reflected in the evident inability of most politicians to ‘tax the rich’ , despite the fiscal crisis, and despite calls from billionaires like Warren Buffet  to do precisely that. This has to be one of the most important issues to explore if we wish a more ‘sustainable’ world.

6. Information and Communications Technologies in Rural Areas

I have been engaged in both practical ways and in research with the application, uses and impacts of Information and Communications technologies in rural areas since 1985, when I worked to establish a pilot computer conferencing and email system called ‘Rurtel’ running from my offices in a predominately rural, mountainous, part of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland. This pioneering pilot system was used by a range of social enterprises and other organisations across rural Scotland for day-to-day communications, on-line meetings, and email. I was subsequently involved in a number of research projects around ICT in rural areas including evaluations of communications infrastructure investment, community teleservice centres, and employment impacts. As programme Director of the Arkleton Trust, I organised two international seminars on ICT in rural development and education, one in 1986 and the second a decade later in 1996. I have also supervised a successful PhD in this field. Rurtel influenced BT’s policy to allow a single access local call rate for public data communications in the Highlands and Islands in the 1980s, and it has been documented in MSc and PhD theses and Journal articles.

7. Rural Innovation Systems, Renewable Energy and Water Issues

In the last few years I have taken an increasing interest in these interconnected issues. First of all, it has become increasingly evident that much of the research on innovation and innovation systems completely ignored the kinds of innovation we observed in the DORA, TOP-MARD and other work linked to the dynamics of rural regions, as well as the kind of rural innovations that emerged from the EU’s LEADER1 and LEADER2 programmes in the 1990s. Secondly, it was equally evident that innovation processes were very important in moving towards more ‘sustainable’ rural regions, as this involved a paradigmic shift to thinking about mutual payoffs for the environment, the economy and society. Once again, in rural regions, public goods linked to nature (ecosystems) and culture were bound to play a key role in the shift to a more sustainable society generally. Water is a key area of interest here, since it simultaneously absorbs the ‘pollution’ from farming, industry and communities (and in the process carries surplus – increasingly scarce and costly – nutrients to the sea) and provides human welfare in the form of drinking water, recreation, climate regulation as well as related commercial activities linked to recreation and tourism, for example. The complex human – institutional – environment interactions and dynamics are a key area of future research which demands at least a ‘systems thinking’ approach of the kind we used in TOP-MARD, and I am currently involved in a small way in a proposal on this theme.

Renewable energy is another similar area in which I am actively involved, and have taken an interest in since the early 2000s. Global investment in renewable energy is now a multiple of that in agriculture (see my 2010 NILF discussion paper) and most of this is taking place in rural regions. The rapid growth and scale of this investment is propelled by both climate change mitigation efforts, and energy security fears, and related public policies. It is not propelled by rural development objectives, or commonly even conditioned by rural conditions and aspirations. For these reasons, its economic and social impacts are weak or even negative, and in some cases its environmental impacts are also questionable. There are some good cases of rural regions that have developed local innovation systems around renewable energy, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Future research in both the ‘rich’ and poor’ world will need to explore the related questions carefully – there are now very powerful and sensitive actors in this field, and international agreements and agencies are also heavily implicated. Yet critical research is badly needed if rural people are to secure benefits from the development of renewable energy, and if indeed the ambitious global and national targets for renewables are to be reached.

12 Comments
  1. hi John, good to see you remain an IT wiz in this global village 🙂

  2. Thanks for the comment Katalin! I did have some help! Hope you are well!

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  9. Today I was writing something about the history of Scottish Hydro Electric Power. As in many countries with significant Hydro resources, the original capital investment in dams etc has been recovered long ago, and the real cost of production remains lower than any other source of electricity in the absence of significant silting etc. Such is the case in Norway, where around 100% of electricity supply comes from Hydro electric power, and the cost of electricity for households in the second quarter of 2013 was 88.1 Øre per kWh or 9.27 pence sterling. This price includes taxes and grid rent.
    Compare this with the lowest quote for Inverness today (from EON, and not Scottish Hydro) of 13.104 pence per kWh. This is over 41% higher than the Norwegian price.
    Whereas the Norwegian consumer benefits from the low costs of Hydro power, it seems that even a consumer close to Hydro resources in Scotland does not. Nor does there seem to be any benefit at all from choosing the company most associated with Hydro electricity in Scotland as one’s supplier.
    Perhaps some of the brainy folk out there reading this can help me to understand this conundrum.John B

  10. I am reading about the early scottish economist John Law, an extraordinary and very controversial character. When the Bank of England was established in 1694, incidentally by another Scot, William Paterson, Law was incarcerated in Newgate Prison in London, sentenced to death for murder. He was helped to escape to Scotland and then, after the Union of 1707, to France, probably by the powerful Argyll Campbell family, and was there appointed as Contrôleur Général des Finances (Financial Secretary). He established the monopoly Banque Royale there in order to refinance the French crown following the very costly Wars of Spanish Succession. As part of this he was the generator of the Mississippi Bubble – more and more stocks in the Mississippi company were issued against government debt or notes issued by the Banque Royale, leading to a speculative share price bubble that eventually collapsed. John Law escaped from France dressed as a woman. Shortly after the South Sea Company, also given a monopoly in trade including the slave trade in exchange for finance of war debts in England, also collapsed. Normally portrayed as a villain of the piece, recent interpretations have cast him in a new light.

  11. Linda Myres permalink

    Hi John! Your work is always inspiring. I will forward your links to Young Agrarians and other young people working on developing sustainable resources on Vancouver Island for their interest. Best wishes! Linda

    • Hi Linda,
      Many thanks for this. Much appreciated as always!
      Hope this finds you well as it leaves me. Warm regards, John

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