Migration, Meaning(s) of Place and Variation in Means (strategies) Ends (outcomes) in Cumbria, England: Implications for Rural Innovation Policy

Friday, June 24, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
402 Barrows (Barrows Hall)
Zografia Bika, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Christos Kalantaridis, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Debbie Millard, University of Bradford, Bradford, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Stimulating rural innovation has recently emerged as a new policy domain. Previously considered within the context of agricultural policy and subsequently rural development policy, rural innovation policy is increasingly recognised as meriting consideration in its own right nationally and transnationally (ENRD, 2013; OECD, 2014). Within the emerging domain of rural innovation policy there is, however, growing criticism of theoretical constructs (emphasising the importance of proximity, clustering and the region, as the main unit of spatial analysis and its systemic bias) built on the findings of empirical research coming from urban settings. Understanding innovative activity through the eyes of rural dwellers (viewed, though, invariably as undifferentiated members of the community) is advanced as an alternative. Our paper furthers this agenda: introducing a subjective conceptualisation of place, and exploring its consequences for understanding both rural innovation and relevant policy. In doing so, we use empirical data (both quantitative and qualitative) from rural Cumbria, England. Empirical evidence includes a survey of 110 innovative enterprises using the results of the UK Innovation Survey 2012 for rural Cumbria for stratification purposes (sectoral inclusivity) and four case studies drawn from the innovative enterprises surveyed (that explicitly aimed at working backwards from innovation events). The quantitative evidence shows that there are significant differences between entrepreneurs who experienced differential types of migratory discontinuity and rural innovation is the outcome of extensive use of external (to the firm) knowledge resources. The qualitative data analysis illustrates (through the four case studies) how migratory discontinuities lead to the assignment of diverse meanings to rural Cumbria, with considerable implications for our understanding of variation in innovation strategies. These mixed-method findings show that there is a theoretical need to break away from the dominant perceptions of regional resources: not as the outcome of objective constraints assigned to place but subjective understandings of the means (strategies) needed and available in attaining the ends (innovation outcome) sought. Understanding place as an independent influence upon actors and their choices regarding innovation strategies and outcomes in rural areas emerges here as less relevant. Instead variation in means (strategies) is the outcome of the meaning that entrepreneurs assign to place. This meaning of place is neither objective nor shared (that is the result of a process of contestation or negotiation) but differentiated. Such 'place' is inextricably linked with the entrepreneurial actor and the experiences that he or she has accumulated through time. Our paper therefore suggests that subjective understandings of means-ends can assist in reconceptualising rural innovation, providing a more robust basis for policy. At the same time we question the homogeneous nature of (and the assumed collective understanding within) rural communities and instead advance community as a contestable terrain for the development of rural innovation policy. More specifically, we warn that the the effects of rural innovation policy actions, inspired by a ‘rural ethnocentricism’ aimed at the mobilisation of local (natural, cultural and recreational) resources as the means to improve innovation ends, may not be realised if differential understandings of place (the outcome of migratory discontinuities) are not taken into account in policy development.