The comeback of Action Research?

This year’s European Rural Sociology meeting in Vaasa, Finland  aired a remarkable optimism. With the crisis in the real world, the identity crisis of rural sociologists seems over. In times of crisis, there  seems more space for social change.

One of the conference themes was “the rural bites back”.  Well, “the rural never went away” Michael Bell said, “we only need to consider the political conditions of our work”. Time for the activist/scientist to stand up. This resonates very well with how I experienced the spirit of the local and sustainable food community in the US. No wonder, Michael Bell is based in Madison, Wisconsin.

In his opening keynote speech, Philip Lowe, from Newcastle University, UK, explained the history and differences between the American and European rural sociology societies. Despite the historically more distant and observant EU tradition, he too urged for us to engage and deal with the “mess” of reality. And in yet another plenary session, the comeback of action research was observed.

Although some of us never did anything different, there was a general vibe of action readiness for social change in the conference. Have the years of ‘Critique’ only passed? Certainly, new engagement and involvement urge us to take position and to be the “political scientists of the rural” as Michael Bell put it.