Research on rural support for disruptive political movements wins major European grant

Professor Michael Woods

The relationship between voter discontent in rural areas and support for disruptive political movements in Europe and the United States will be explored in a major study by a Aberystwyth University professor, following the award of a prestigious grant.

Professor Michael Woods has secured funding of nearly €2.5 million from the European Research Council (ERC) for the project entitled ‘Rural Discontent, Spatial Justice and Disruptive Politics in the Twenty-first Century’ (Rural-Spatial-Justice).

Over the next five years, the Rural-Spatial-Justice study will explore why many rural regions have been key supporters of Brexit in Britain, Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States, and populist parties in Europe such as Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally.

It will investigate how the grievances of rural people influence voting patterns, as well as look at variations between different rural areas.

The project will additionally examine the consequences of rising populism for inclusion and diversity in the countryside.

Professor Woods, from the University’s Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, explained: “In a time of political uncertainty, it is important for us to understand how feelings of discontent and injustice in the countryside may feed support for disruptive movements. This grant will allow us to compare patterns in several countries and to investigate why similar pressures on rural communities produce different political outcomes in different places.

“Importantly, by focusing on what we call ‘spatial justice’, the project will aim to recognise the real grievances of rural people, while also highlighting the experiences of rural residents who are excluded or threatened by polarising rhetoric. We want to work with rural communities to explore fair and inclusive ways of addressing the challenges that they face.”

The project will compare examples in Britain, France, Poland, Spain and the United States, working with partners at the University of Kentucky and the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire.

Researchers will combine analysis and mapping of election results, a major international survey of 17,500 people, and detailed local case studies.

Aberystwyth University’s new Dialogue Centre will also be involved in facilitating engagement with communities.

ERC Advanced Grants are amongst the most prestigious and competitive EU funding schemes and Professor Woods joins a small elite to have been successful in winning two successive awards, following his 2014­-2019 GLOBAL-RURAL project that examined globalization in rural areas.

The grants are designed to support excellent research leaders with a recognised track record of achievements. Applicants must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their scientific proposal.

Commenting on the latest awards, Maria Leptin, President of the European Research Council (ERC), said: “These new ERC Advanced Grantees are a testament to the outstanding quality of research carried out across Europe. We look forward to seeing the results of the new projects in the years to come, with many likely to lead to breakthroughs and new advances.”

This news originally appeared on the Aberystwyth University website.