The CRE Blog gets a facelift: announcing a new commissioning and editing process

Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) blog editors Beth and Adrienne have recently attended a training session with an expert editor, and are now ready to take the CRE blog to the next level. Here they announce some forthcoming changes to the commissioning and editing process.

What is the purpose of the CRE blog? Who is our audience? What information should we be trying to convey? These are some of the key questions that we, as editors of the CRE blog, have been asking ourselves recently.

We took on the role of editing the CRE blog approximately 18 months ago and have really enjoyed working with many of you to publish your ideas. It has been quite a learning curve for us, and while we have been really pleased with the number and quality of posts we have received, we think it is now time for us to up our game as editors. To this end, we connected with freelance writer and editor extraordinaire Julia Glotz, who ran a fantastic blog editing workshop for us earlier this month.

There is a wealth of experience and ideas within the CRE and we believe it is important that a channel is available to staff and students through which to communicate both with each other and to a wider, less-specialist audience. The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has highlighted how valuable blogs can be for communicating complex information in an accessible manner. We also recently learned at training delivered by Newcastle University’s Policy Academy that rigorous academic blogs can be an important source information for policymakers, particularly when they are pushed for time and need insights into current issues in an accessible format and from a credible source. We believe the CRE blog can play this role.

One of the key things we learned in our blog workshop is that good editors need to be more than proofreaders. They must help their writers shape their ideas from the outset so that the final product is as engaging, accessible and informative as possible.

In order to ensure your writing gets the attention it deserves, we will be changing our editorial process to maximise the consistency and quality of the CRE blog going forward. This will include providing more guidance to you, our writers, in order to make writing a blog less of a daunting task.

We will shortly be circulating a briefing note that will outline the new process. We hope this will make the blog submission process easier, not more difficult, and encourage more of you to contribute. The CRE blog cannot be a success without you!

For now, we leave you with a few key takeaways:

  • A blog post should be able to tell readers something they don’t already know. What is surprising or unexpected about your idea? Are there any elements of conflict or change?
  • You should be able to summarise your topic in a catchy headline. If you can’t think of one, you probably need to adjust your idea!
  • Keep it simple and to the point. You should be able to convey your message in 600-800 words.

We look forward to continuing to work with you all to make the CRE blog the success we know it can be.

For more information on training sessions run by Julia Glotz, visit her website: We can’t recommend her highly enough!

The City, the Country and Resources

Shane Finan is a visual artist from Ireland. He works with mixed media installation to create places. He writes computer programs for these installations, linking the places that he makes to contemporary technology. In April 2020, he was due to begin a residency with Visual Arts in Rural Communities (VARC), collaborating with Kielderhead Wildwood Project, Northumberland Wildlife Trust as part of the residency programme ENTWINED. Rural. Land. Lives. Art. The residency has been postponed, but he is sharing some of the background research and development from his project to date (more information

In 2014, after a frustrating period of unemployment, I gained a role as a graphic designer with a print firm in Tallaght, in an industrial estate in south Dublin. Having lived in the city for nearly two years, I had familiarised myself with the passages and rhythms of the city structure. But the time spent in an industrial estate opened my eyes to a supply chain that I had previously been unaware of.

A photograph from a bridge in Tallaght, Dublin, showing the road networks entering and leaving the industrial suburb
Tallaght is an industrial suburb of Dublin that links the city to the countryside. There are many industrial estates in Tallaght that include manufacture and distribution.
Credit: Shane Finan

One of the first things I noticed was the flow of resources to the various industrial units in the area where I worked. The lorries and trucks delivered raw materials, such as glass, fibres, food, plastics or car parts from other parts of the country. Assembly was carried out in the industrial estate, with clients usually based inside the city as the final destination for goods. This dreary industrial estate is one of the general supply lines for the city.

What was striking was the way the chain operated. The cost to the final recipient for any work carried out was high, considering the supply chain and the people involved in moving goods from one place to another. This is natural in supply chain economics, but I had never seen it as acutely before, and it made me realise two things.

The first was the economic imbalance between city and country. Those suppliers who brought materials from rural areas were paid at a lower rate, despite bearing the burden of importing the raw materials, and of transporting them to the south Dublin estate. This imbalance was a micro climate of the macro level economic flow in globalised capitalist markets.

The second was that resourcing was required to operate in the countryside, via an industrial estate, to service a city’s requirements. Because of the need of space and cheaper labour, this meant that there was a necessity for resources to come from areas where they could be manufactured, mined, or otherwise sourced.

Both of these points made me suddenly aware of the fragility of the city, and of its reliance on the countryside and communication infrastructure for resources and supplies. Although on a macro scale, most of these supplies come from international markets, even on a micro (national) scale, this meant that the city of Dublin could not function without these supply chains. More poignantly, the grittiness and dishevelled nature of the work in the industrial estate was an enormous contrast to the “clean” image of the city.

An image of shipping containers at a port in Dublin, piled four containers high.
Dublin port is a major shipping area. The ports provide a route of transmission for goods and services that translate into the “clean” city image.
Credit: Shane Finan

I grew up in the countryside, and had always been aware of the imbalance of cost of living and salaries between the city and the rural. However, this time spent in the industrial estate made me far more aware of the existence of the seen and the unseen in the city: The engine that makes sure the car keeps running.

This fragility was something I learned more about when working on a European Union project proposal about port security. On this proposal, my eyes were opened to the macro-level array of supply chains that exist in ports throughout Europe, and their own fragility. The shipping container industry changed international trade and made possible the macro-level supply chains that supply cities and countries today (Levinson, 2006). Shipping containers are big business, but to maintain supply lines in international trade they are also regulated only insofar as they can be based on the availability of people. Security breaches, like human trafficking or movement of illicit materials, is very difficult to track.

These micro and macro level observations made me acutely aware of a type of balance in supply that I had never considered before: Without the countryside the city cannot function. And more than this: Without the grit of an industrial and agricultural underbelly, the pristine, techno-utopic city would not exist. These might seem like obvious statements to any scholar of globalisation, but their effects were never as strongly felt by me personally until I was wrapped in those structures.

Later in 2014, after an accident on the factory floor led to a co-worker nearly losing his arm, I left the company (still probably in a state of shock) to leave behind the industrial grit and position in the link between country and city. I was lucky to be hired by Trinity College Dublin to manage a European project at this time, and so moved from the semi-city industry to the city proper again.

The experience has not left me, however. I see pieces of the work that I was involved with in strange places – on the seats of Ryanair airplanes, or the side of construction machinery on building sites. I am aware of that link, from country to city, and aware of what it costs people who live in that world between worlds.

But more than everything else, I am aware of the mask that is created between the “grit” of the country and the “cleanliness” of the city. David Batchelor wrote about the desire for a pristine state of existence for modern people in his exploratory book Chromophobia. In it, he outlines how the contemporary citizen strives for a clean, white, dirt-free environment (2000). His exploration of this idea is poignant because it shows up the falseness of the quest for the pristine. He also highlights how the move away from “dirt” is perceived as a move toward civility.

The city operates in this way. This is why there is outrage in cities when there is a visible grime. Cities hide their “dirt”, for example when the Australian government built false partition buildings to hide slum aboriginal neighbourhoods when pitching for the 2000 Olympic Games (Pilger, 2002). Many cities worldwide, including recently in the USA, ban homelessness and force homeless people out of city centres, not fixing the problem but removing its visibility (Lam, 2019).

The end result is a removal of responsibility, a separation between the “dirt” and the “clean”. This is important in any philosophy that suggests a closer connection to nature. This connection between rural and urban has been intentionally eroded in a dream of a pristine city reality. Although an illusion, the dream is, as Kant may have described it, a “Regulative Ideal”. It is an unattainable goal, but one that nonetheless guides the philosophy of the expansion of cities.

An image of a mound of earth on a forest bank
Our fear of ‘dirt’ relates to a fear of the rural, something that has developed in post-industrial western culture
Credit: Shane Finan

This idea was exemplified in the satirical video artwork The Dust Channel  by Roee Rosen, which I was lucky enough to see in Friche la Belle de Mai, Marseilles in 2018. In this video, an operetta about Dyson Hoovers, a couple slowly remove all dirt, filth and grime from their contemporary apartment, creating a clean environment (Rosen, 2016). Simultaneously, police come and joyfully cart away the musicians playing in the opera, all of whom gradually take on the image of refugees or (in this case) Palestinians. The dirt is removed, along with the culture, the music, the history. And all that remains is the Dyson-inspired clean world. Or at least this is the illusion (the video proceeds after the end of the opera to show a Dyson Hoover channel-hopping as it searches for the best news and entertainment about vacuum cleaners amid images of protest and unrest).

By using satire, intense imagery, and a unique imagination, Rosen highlighted the illusion of the pristine as a Regulative Ideal, a false concept of a perfect world. I believe the perfect world has more dirt, not less. It is one where the natural and the city collide, where the desire for the pristine is one of the ideas that dies away.

As I write this, COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in Europe (in the last month it has forced the curator that I am working with to be grounded in her home in Turin before postponing our exhibition launch indefinitely in Clare, Ireland). I have had to postpone my planned residency at Kielder. Uncertainty is everywhere. The pristine is suddenly more valuable, as hand sanitisers sell out and public spaces are seen as unsafe.

In an even stranger turn of events in this saga, the spread of the virus has also amplified xenophobia, in this case anti-Chinese sentiment. Rumours abound about how this manifested, and who may have been to blame. As the first cases occurred in China, this is where the diatribe is directed. In Europe, north Italy has become a pariah for the unclean – in the first two weeks of the pandemic in Ireland, most cases reported were from people who had recently travelled to north Italy.

COVID-19 exemplifies the disconnection between the rural and the urban, between nature and people. In the anthropocentric view, we hold a belief that this type of pandemic is beyond us – our medical incisiveness and antibacterial advancements have, we believe, kept us safe. But in truth, they are potentially making us less so. Although immunity cannot shield us from all disease, our own immune systems need to be practiced if we are to overcome major outbreaks. By killing 99.9% of bacteria, we may have left room for the feared 0.1%.

In each area, we have lost sight of the importance of the network. Divisions are created between the city and the rural, between the civilised and the wild. These divisions only serve to increase our reliance on a system that has already failed us.


Batchelor, D. (2000). Chromophobia: Reaktion books.

Lam, K. (2019, 15/12/2019). Cities are criminalizing homelessness by banning people from camping in public. That’s the wrong approach, report says. USA Today. Retrieved from

Levinson, M. (2006). The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger: Princeton University Press.

Pilger, J. (2002). Globalisation; the New Rulers of the World. In: UK.

Rosen, R. (2016). The Dust Channel. In. Marseilles: Friche la Belle de Mai.

Overseas Institutional Visit – Toulouse School of Economics

In the latest CRE blog PhD student Elena Benedetti reflects on her recent study visit to the Toulouse School of Economics

Toulouse – Credit: Elena Benedetti

During February and March 2020, I had the opportunity to visit the Toulouse School of Economics (TSE) at the University Toulouse Capitole, in the South-West of France. I was able to go following the kind invitation of Prof. Nicolas Treich, whom I met last year at a Centre for Rural Economy seminar. Nicolas is a senior researcher and director of INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique), working mainly in environmental, behavioural and animal welfare economics. This experience was funded thanks to the overseas institutional visit scheme offered by my scholarship, the ESRC-NINE DTP. I really recommend every NINE DTP PhD student apply for the same scheme to visit another institution for a few months. ESRC can fund travel and accommodation, and also extend your scholarship, in some instances.

TSE is a world-renowned centre for research in economics, chaired by Nobel laureate Jean Tirole. It works to connect research to policy, in France, Europe and worldwide, and comprises various economic research groups, including applied economics (environmental, food, health), finance, econometrics, public economics, industrial organization and macroeconomics. The centre recently moved to an impressive new building that won the Pritzker prize this year. It was fascinating to study in this modern glass building with terraces, where we could go to have chats and coffee breaks (the coffee was free for everyone). I had a big office just for myself and I could focus very easily on my research. The environment there was very stimulating and, in a way, I was much more motivated to do my work and be constantly focused. Being there allowed me to appreciate more what I am doing for my PhD and be more willing to explore and study new things. I learnt how important it is to do research with people that are passionate about many of the same things as you. It is extremely vital to connect with other researchers and exchange ideas.

Overall, it was a great experience, both for my professional and personal development. My own research benefitted substantially from this visiting period. I believe the suggestions and feedback I received while there will notably improve the quality of my project. Discussions with various academics enabled me to consider new and different perspectives on my research. I met people that implemented very similar micro-simulation model to mine and we listened to and challenged each other. This was essential to correcting some parts of my research, allowing me to achieve better results.

In terms of dissemination, engagement and knowledge exchange, I had the opportunity to present my work and research findings in a seminar in front of experts in environmental, health and food economics, many of whom gave me excellent suggestions and feedback. This was without any doubt a very useful practice for my presentation skills in view of future conferences and my PhD viva.

Toulouse – Credit: Elena Benedetti

The best thing about my visit was the opportunity to meet different types of academics and have direct contact with them on a regular basis. Everyone was kind and willing to help, in every moment. The PhD community was very welcoming as well. They informed me about the possibility of attending the job market conference during my final year of my PhD in order to apply for job opportunities. I could talk with them about my issues and concerns and discuss my research at any time. We also had some social events together where we went for drinks and dinner. I really enjoyed this experience because I could talk with everyone about my project, also during lunch time.

The connection between TSE and IAST (Institute of Advanced Study in Toulouse) offered the possibility to exchange multi-disciplinary skills and knowledge among researchers. I could attend one or more seminars each day (where the lunch was always provided), with speakers coming from everywhere. I learnt about new models and new research topics, among other things; every day I spent there was a learning opportunity. In fact, I am still able to attend these seminars online, which means I can continue to learn new things daily.

Some researchers read my working paper and provided me very detailed comments, essential for the improvement of my work, in view of future journal submissions. Also, I introduced to them the new part of my PhD concerning the effects of environmental regulations on trade. It was extremely useful because I was able to get suggestions on how to develop this new project and which direction to follow before starting it.

The city was very beautiful and charming, with nice streets and squares. The walk along the river is one of the best part of the city, and I was able to enjoy it every day on the way from my house to the university. The sunset was amazing, everything painted with pink color, from the houses to the sky. The food and wine was also great, especially the cheese! My favourite was the raclette and the fondue. I also had the possibility to travel around in the weekends.

Unfortunately, I had to leave Toulouse before the actual return date due to the coronavirus outbreak, but I am very satisfied for the overall experience. I managed to do what I planned to do and create some good networks with many researchers in view of my future career. I would like to go back sometime to visit some of the PhD students I met there. Again, I really recommend that everyone consider this opportunity. It is extremely worthwhile, and can help you appreciate your project more, get more exciting ideas and enrich your skills and personal development.