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constructions of rurality. It is unlikely, though, that breed type matters for most
people, even though the existence of animals might as an entity. Nevertheless, it has
also been shown that, for these people, individual breeds can play a significant role
in the creation and dilution of place identity, and are hence an important facet of
rurality. It is nonetheless clear that farm livestock are more than the simple 'units of
production' so commonly portrayed in geographical literature.
This chapter has sought to move analysis in agricultural geography away from
political economy-based approaches and towards greater cultural sensitivity. Using
the example of livestock, it has demonstrated that by taking a more culturally
sensitive approach to agricultural geography, new directions for research become
apparent. It should be stressed, however, that abandonment of political economy
approaches is not being advocated. They are helpful to explain why certain breeds
survive or how a breed is commercially useful (even if it is not necessarily for
agricultural output), but, as the survey of RBST membership demonstrated, political
economy approaches provide only a partial understanding of the geography of
livestock. Even in the modified format frequently employed in agricultural
geography, they are unable to cope with the complex spatial relationships that have
developed between animals and people or groups of people. It cannot be denied that
economic factors have influenced abundancy and scarcity of breeds in the
countryside, but it is too deterministic to rely upon these explanations. It is here
that culturally informed perspectives become relevant to help interpret and
reinterpret facets of agricultural change (Morris and Evans 1999). As this analysis of
livestock breeds has demonstrated, cultural influences can help to provide a better
understanding of spatial and temporal variations in animal distributions.
These considerations (re-)engage agricultural geography with some of the debates
affecting (post-)rural geography. On the one hand, it is possible to treat cultural
approaches as 'stirring some additional ingredients into the mix of rural studies'
(Philo 1992:193). Certainly, the main purpose of this chapter has been to outline a
few, but by no means all, of the ways in which agricultural geography can be
enriched by such cultural 'flavourings'. However, others (Murdoch and Pratt 1993)
have argued for a paradigm shift which takes as its starting-point an understanding
that 'the rural' and everything within it is socially constructed. There have also been
suggestions that to ignore political or economic circumstances would lead to studies
which lacked critical, explanatory power. Thus, Murdoch and Pratt (1997) have
advocated a more flexible approach to rural study which recognises the role of local
'actor networks' within fluidly constructed rural spaces. Such 'a focus upon network
construction and mediation thus begins to provide a way of breaking down the
inevitable rigidities in conceiving rural space from its physical composition or its
strictly internal or external definition alone' (Marsden 1998:25). Taken to its logical
conclusion, these networks should include not only people, but animals and flora
too (Murdoch 1997). This will lead to a more symmetrical, and therefore better,
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