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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Centre for International Relations Research (CIRR) Chair Group on History and Theory of International Relations Research themes Sheep, wool, landscape and connectivity


Despoblat de Santa Creu de Llagunes. Photo: Toni López Montes.
Despoblat de Santa Creu de Llagunes. Photo: Toni López Montes.

The programme of research around which the 'Sheep, wool, landscape and connectivity' project develops focuses on the evolution of bio-economic structures, those structures whose organisation and activities rest on the economic exploitation of living material and its related ecological context.

According to the European Union , the sustainable development of biological resources and related production systems is central to the advancement of a more competitive, innovative and prosperous economy. The bio-economic structures thus envisioned are, however, the product of complex political arrangements. Sustainability depends on the successful management of relations and potential tensions between, on the one hand, investment in bio-technology and its transformative effects upon relationships between different forms of life and distinctive ecological contexts, and, on the other hand, commitment to preserve bio-heritage, those forms of life and distinctive relations to ecological context that have been forged over the course of history.

As such, the project seeks to develop the analytical tools necessary to advance current understanding of the complexities involved in securing the sustainable development of biological resources, aiming ultimately to advance an empirically grounded, critical understanding of contemporary socio-cultural structures and their evolution. Three sets of theoretical considerations , about markets, technology and materiality, are central to the development of the project. In turn, these theoretical considerations can be examined to critical effect by focusing on the connections that are drawn today between two distinct phenomena, namely the investment in the preservation of rare breeds of sheep from extinction, and the renewed interest in wool and the production of woollen textiles. Developments in the Lake District and Dales of northern England, the Catalan Pyrenees, and the Piedmontese Alps suggest that the contemporary re-emergence of wool as a replacement for synthetic fibres in the production of clothing and other textiles is sustained by emphasis on its being a natural product, and that the sheep from which this natural product is derived are key to the sustainable renewal of rural regions, their economies and forgotten cultures. Narratives about the mutual dependence of sheep, wool and landscape mediate the convergence of these two phenomena. These same developments also suggest, however, that this configuration of sheep, wool and landscape is contradictory .

As a result, the project’s objectives are two:

The first objective is to understand how the development of bio-economic structures depends on managing two potentially contradictory dynamics. These are the transformative dynamics of bio-technological innovation, particularly the separation of forms of life from the specificities of particular places and their history, and the investment in the development of bio-heritage to secure the renewal of local economies.

The second objective is to advance more general understanding of the relational and connective dynamics involved in the construction of bio-economic assemblages, by focusing explicitly upon the assumptions about life, time and space that are involved in bio-economic processes, examining how the component parts come to be connected, and reflecting upon what is required to think about these parts without presupposing connection.

In light of these objectives, the project is evolving along three axes and corresponding questions about the relationship between sheep, wool and landscape.

Last modified:21 February 2017 4.04 p.m.