François-Michel Le Tourneau
Sparsely populated regions as a specific geographical environment
OHM(s) involved
  • OHMi Pima County
Journal of Rural Studies
The Amazon forests, the Northern artic regions, the Australian bush and Siberian plains all have very low demographic densities, but they are rarely studied as pertaining to the same global category. It appears, however , that when considering sparsely populated regions (SPR) globally they share not only demographical characteristics, but also a number of features in their economic, political, spatial and social configuration, and more importantly in visions of nature and the environment, which make them different from more densely populated areas. The point of this paper is to demonstrate that despite obvious ecological and climatic differences , SPR can be considered as a specific geographical category and in so doing we are able to reveal and explain aspects until now imperfectly framed under the 'rural' category which they are generally put into. This point is far from anecdotal, since contrary to common assumptions, SPR are still largely dominant today on Earth in terms of extension. Considering them as a unique category can therefore be an important step forward in cross-continental rural studies. The Amazon forests, the Northern artic regions, the Australian bush and the Siberian plains have all something in common: they are sparsely populated. Linked with this same basic characteristic, a number of other common points appear when examining their spatial and social configuration and the place they hold in their respective national contexts. The point of this paper is therefore to explore if, despite obvious differences in their ecological environments and histories, the remarkable set of similarities found in sparsely populated regions (hereafter SPR) across the world can lead to addressing them as a specific socio-environment whose characteristics and dynamics were until now only partially captured by the concept of "rural" under which they are generally put. This is far from anecdotal since, contrary to common assumptions, SPR are still largely dominant today on Earth in terms of extension, and the growing concentration of human populations in densely populated areas is at the same time increasing SPR predominance and widening the cultural and economic rift between them. The first part of this paper aims at situating SPR both in statistical and vernacular terms. In the second part, I show how SPR do not fit well under the rural category and how they relate to "wilderness". In the third part, I explore how frameworks like the frontier theory and Carson and Carson (2014) "8Ds" help define common points which appear at all latitudes and development stages. The fourth part of the paper builds on these in order to point out a number of common features which characterize SPR across all environments and allow to consider themconstruct as a specific spatial category. We then analyze how the relationship existing between SPR and the metropolis they are related to can be framed under the 'telegovernance' concept and how many contemporary conflicts about this governance can be at least partially explained by conflicting worldviews and diverging connections to space and nature.