Graduate students make rural inroads
Talk about a whirlwind introduction to rural-versus-urban society and policy in Quebec! The 50 participants in the International Comparative Rural Policy Studies (ICRPS) summer institute travelled almost 1,500 kilometres during their two-week program.
Thirty graduate students and 20 faculty participants from Canada and abroad completed 14 excursions between June 21 and July 6. They met 23 policy analysts, practitioners and rural leaders, and heard from 10 international scholars. They also produced six reports on topics that included food, energy, natural resources, social inequities, and regional development.
It’s no wonder they returned to their accommodations at Concordia’s Grey Nuns residence exhausted but satisfied with their introduction to rural society and policy in Quebec.
Concordia proudly hosted the ninth year of the ICRPS summer institute in partnership with the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation and the Université du Québec à Rimouski. This was the ICRPS summer institute’s first foray into Québec. Previous summer programs have included locations such as Norway, Scotland, Belgium, Spain and the United States.
The program’s goal is to familiarize graduate students with the tools for policy creation and analysis, as well as collaborative research and communication, by comparing the rural settings and policies of different countries. The reports prepared by the students will form the basis of a submission to the Ministère des affaires municipales, Régions et Occupations du territoire du Québec (MAMROT) in evaluating the rural policy enacted by the province in 2007.
Students and faculty arrived from Tibet, Norway, Scotland, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Columbia, Mexico, the United States and other countries. Their opportunity to discuss a gamut of rural issues with a diversity of experts is unique to the ICRPS summer institute.
“By including extensive fieldwork, we were able to directly engage those most involved in the formulation of policy, along with those most likely to experience the impacts,” says William Reimer, professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and one of the summer program’s co-organizers.
The participants spent three days in Montreal speaking to the CEOs of corporations with long histories of rural involvement through food processing, mining and other economic ventures. The students also met with the leaders of non-governmental organizations and businesses involved in rural-urban relations through community gardens, urban agriculture, farmer markets and other pro-active initiatives.
“We then spent three days in Quebec City speaking directly to the architects of the province’s regional and northern policies,” says Reimer. “The balance of our time was spent in and around Rimouski, meeting with agents and organizations involved in activities such as farming, food research, watershed management, wind farms, and community development in devitalized communities.”
Participants always brought their own experiences to bear on local and regional challenges. The value of their direct, comparative analysis is reflected in some of the insights emerging from their presentations and reports.
“They noted how Québec’s relatively ‘top-down’ organization of energy has constrained some of the innovations in local production that can be found in Norway,” Reimer says by way of example. “Students from Catalonia also suggested ways to make immigrants feel more welcome in rural areas and comfortable about learning a new language.”
Participants also identified gaps in communication between government departments and local organizations, which have been conveyed as part of their findings.
Concordia faculty and staff will likely provide their unique insights when they participate in the 10th session of the ICRPS summer institute in Italy next year.
• International Comparative Rural Policy Studies 2012 Summer School
• International Comparative Rural Policy Studies
• Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation
• Ministère des Affaires municipales, des Régions et de l'Occupation du territoire
• Concordia's Department of Sociology and Anthropology