Methodological and Conceptual Issues in the Study of Multifunctionality and Rural Development



The aim of this paper is to try and outline the complexity of rural development processes that specifically relate to the phenomenon of multifunctionality. ‘Multifunctionality schemes’ are introduced as a means for visualizing the complex interrelationships in rural development processes and to ‘map’ the functional relationships and specific reconfigurations in the use of resources such as land, labour, knowledge and nature that underlie them. In the discussion, reference is made to case studies from the impact research programme. The Rhöngold case is used to illustrate how MF-schemes can help to define micro-macro relations and facilitate their quantification. Several conceptual issues are addressed in relation to the translation of farm data to the regional level, indirect multiplier effects, substitution effects and the importance of synergy. Methodological complications are seen in problems associated with the acceptance of a paradigm shift; the inadequacy of available regional, national and European data sets; the complex nature of micro-macro relations; the difficulty of defining boundaries and reference systems; and the struggle with time,scale and space as critical modifiers of reality. The need to link the dimensions of agricultural and rural change demands a more multidisciplinary,holistic approach to analysis and conceptualization.