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A systematic review of the research on rural vulnerability

Sergio Villamayor-Tomas, Francesco Facchini, Daniel Gaitán, Gerard Pocull and Gerard Codina, Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA-UAB); Esteve Corbera Elizalde, ICTA-UAB, Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA); Federica Ravera, Universitat de Girona (UdG)
Project selected in the Social Research Call 2019 (LCF/PR/SR19/52540011)

Spain’s rural populations are increasingly affected by climate change, biodiversity loss and socioeconomic dynamics, such as the lowering economic value of farming, land concentration and out-migration. All these factors increase rural vulnerability. Research has made progress illustrating how these processes impact rural livelihoods and which measures could minimize their negative effects (i.e., contribute to adaptation) to overcome rural vulnerability in Spain. Yet, this abundance of literature can be confusing, and therefore not very useful to inform policy making. The objective of this article is to undertake a systematic review of the literature (137 articles and book chapters) to help understand where we stand in terms of research on rural vulnerability.
Key points
  • 1
       Researchers of rural vulnerability in Spain have been interested in multiple threats and their interactions, but their approaches have tended to be unsystematic, i.e., without a detailed and comprehensive plan of study.
  • 2
       Around 60% of the articles from this literature review focus totally on single environmental threats (climate change, environmental degradation, natural disaster, wildfire, or drought). Other factors, such as policy, market dynamics and depopulation, are much less frequently considered.
  • 3
       A clear research gap is the lack of attention to social and institutional aspects that mediate vulnerability, such as household characteristics, urbanisation patterns and the level of coordination among authorities.
  • 4
       Studies can be grouped by method (quantitative vs. qualitative), reflecting disciplinary divides between environmental and engineering sciences vs. social sciences. Only a few studies clearly define rural vulnerability.
  • 5
       Governmental actions facilitate or hinder adaptation to climate change and other threats.
  • 6
       Although 25% of the articles reviewed state that there are sufficient public resources, nearly 20% also claim that governmental actions prevent change due to coordination and planning deficits.
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