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The scientific construction of the village. Framing and practicing rural research in a trend study in Germany, 1952–2015

This article presents a reconstructive analysis of village research conducted in Germany between 1952 and 2015. For more than 60 years, information was gathered to document socioeconomic and demographic developments in ten West German villages. In the early 1990s, four East German villages became part of that trend study as well. While the material (e.g., surveys, statistics, and field notes) is fragmented and heterogeneous, it nevertheless provides a unique opportunity for reflection on the changing latent concepts, ideas and motives at work in rural research throughout the years. In this paper, we want to reconstruct changing perspectives on the topos ‘village’ by focussing on three issues: (i) concepts of and attitudes towards village life, (ii) the roles assigned to the inhabitants in developing the village, and (iii) the role of science in providing policy advice. We can show how over time, the focus of the research shifted from an infrastructure-oriented perspective, overcoming ‘rural backwardness’ to focus on the village by asking about distinct local practices and identities. Concomitant to the changing view on the inhabitants’ agency, perspectives on development strategies and policy recommendations changed from exogenous to endogenous approaches. The trend study in retrospect highlights how local devel-opment in its complexity is often beyond political steering or researchers’ predictions.



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