Rural and Regional Sociology

Research Area

The research area of rural sociology focuses on the analysis of social, cultural and structural change in rural regions. Thematic core areas are (agro-)food studies and regional and rural development. The research is conducted predominantly within interdisciplinary projects. The results feed into the respective lectures in the BA Sociology and the MA Environmental Management of Mountain Areas (EMMA) and the Doctoral programme Tourism and Leisure in Mountain Regions (TLMR).

The working group is part of the interfaculty research centers Mountain Agriculture Research Unit and Research Center Tourism and Recreation. Both belong to the university research area Alpine Space – Man and Environment.

  • Mountain Agriculture Research Unit [LINK]
  • Research Center Tourism and Recreation [LINK]
  • Alpine Space – Man and Environment [LINK]
  • Video: "Schermer uibk research spotlight" [LINK]


The Team

  • Markus Schermer (team leader)
  • Rike Stotten
  • Carolin Holtkamp
  • Eric Bayala
  • Hannes Herrmann
  • Clemens Maaß
  • Michaela Maurer


Research Reports
Research reports of previous years are available here (in German).


Selected Projects

Village development in Zambia/ East Africa (2018-2019)

In the eastern province of Zambia a long term village oriented development project was financed by the Austrian development co-operation between 1976 and 1996. The project implemented by the Austrian NGO IIZ (institute for international cooperation) under the sponsorship of the diocese of Chipata/eastern province.
Twenty years later former project members restarted activities and founded their own NGO, MPEMASA Development Fund. They started to implement training activities in agriculture and crafts, a project currently under initial funding by the regional state of Tyrol.
The research project will, in cooperation with MPEMASA, evaluate which individual and collective resources can be traced back to the former development project and how these resources shape the current implementation. In a first pre-project phase we finance this out of the resources of the working group.

Impact of Collective Diaspora Supports on Community Resilience: Case Study on Rural Health Infrastructure in Burkina Faso (DIAHealth) (2018-2019)

The project investigates, which impacts collective remittances by a diaspora group have on the resilience of the rural community and their household members. 

Besides financial remittances, this project will look into the role of social remittances e.g. social relations between diaspora members and members of their home community which transmit knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Furthermore, the project will look into the procedures of definition and execution of community projects financed by a diaspora group, especially focusing on the power relations involved.

The case study centers on a diaspora community in Bergamo / Italy that funded a health center and a dispensary in their partner community in Niaogho / Burkina Faso. The research aims to uncover the effects of investments in health infrastructure by diaspora communities and the related change of social practices on the resilience household as well as on the community. Furthermore, we want to know better, how the diaspora interacts with their local household and community members in terms of selecting, planning, implementing and monitoring the health projects and how these private investments are integrated into governmental programs and interventions.

The expected results will allow a more targeted support of diaspora networks for the development in their home countries and assess the potential of their integration into development cooperation.

The project is implemented in cooperation with the Centre Muraz in Bobo Dioulasso, Bukina Faso, funded by the Commission for developments Research (KEF) .


Food heritage is a strong source of identity for Alpine populations. It goes beyond products to include productive landscapes and traditional knowledge on production techniques, consumption customs and rituals, and the transmission of ancient wisdom. AlpFoodway will create a sustainable development model for peripheral mountain areas based on the preservation and valorization of Alpine Space cultural food heritage and on the adoption of innovative marketing and governance tools. It will also foster the emerging of a transnational Alpine identity based on the common cultural values expressed in food heritage.

More information on the project: [LINK]

RESULT (2017-2019)
Resilience through synergies between agriculture and tourism
A comparison of two contrasting trajectories in the Tyrolean Alps

The tourism industry contributes to the rural livelihood in Austrian mountain areas. Multifunctional farming has various ways to integrate with the tourism sector. In this interdisciplinary project the Institute of Sociology, the Institute of Ecology and the European Academy of Bolzano explore together the synergies provided by the interlinkages between agriculture and tourism.

The two mountain villages Obergurgl and Vent, both located in the Ötztal Valley in the Tyrolean Alps, will serve as empirical cases. The project takes a closer look on how these communities, as well as the farms and the ecosystem deal with sudden ruptures, changes or extreme events (e.g. natural hazards or socio-political changes). Based on the concepts of community resilience, farm resilience and socio-ecological resilience it investigates how changes and shocks on the different levels are dealt with, bounced or even integrated. The results and the gained knowledge about the synergies of agriculture and tourism shall help to improve regional development as well as agricultural support programs.

The project is funded by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) in the context of the research program Earth System Sciences.

HealthyGrowth – From niche to volume with integrity and trust (2013-2016)
HealthyGrowth is a ERA-net core organic II project which assembles 10 Partners in 9 countries. The project investigates how the growth in marketing of organic products can be combined with maintaining trust integrity and core values of organic agriculture. The working group Ländliche Entwicklungen | Rural Changes at the Department of Sociology is in charge of the methodology for case studies and for the analysis of communication structures along the supply chains investigated.

Film "how organic markets work" (German).

More information on the project: [LINK more information].

REsilience of marginal GrAsslands and biodiversity management Decision Support (2012-2015)
REGARDs is an interdisciplinary and international project to analyse the relationship between farmer´s activities and the grassland in three Alpine areas (Oppdal, Norway; Stubai, Austria; Lautaret, France). Within a three-year time period we try to unravel the mechanisms underpinning resilience of marginal grassland systems to global environmental and social change in order to enhance socio-ecological resilience from farm to regional level. We explore from a sociological and political science perspective how multi-level governance structures can react to socioeconomic changes that affect biodiversity and the related ecosystem services. [LINK more information].

Kultur.Land.(Wirt)schaft – KULAWI (2009-2012)
This Interreg IV project analyses the factors responsible for the change of cultural landscape in Tyrol and South Tyrol. The project aims to come up with strategies to reconcile the gap between the societal demands on landscape and the possibilities of farmers to provide them.

Culturally grounded tourism and local food in rural development – CulTourFood (2007-2011)
This Norwegian research project coordinated by the Centre for Rural Research in Trondheim incorporates the Working Group Rural Changes as an international partner. It focuses on the combination and interrelation of tourism, cultural activities and local food.

Cultural heritage as an asset for economic added value (2008-2011)
This Norwegian project coordinated by the Centre for Rural Research in Trondheim includes the working group Rural Changes as an international partner. It deals with processes of generating, negotiating and valorizing cultural heritage in rural areas.

Biogas 4 Burkina (2008-2011)
The university cooperation between the Politechnical University of Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso and the University of Innsbruck involves the implementation and evaluation of a communal biogas plant in a rural area.

European Mountain Agrofood products, Retailing and Consumers – EuroMARC (2007 -2010)
EuroMARC analyzed the perception and interest for products from European mountain regions in order to preserve and enhance the biological, agricultural and cultural diversity in mountain regions. The EU 6th framework project was coordinated by Euromontana and assembled ten partners from six countries (Austria, Scotland, France, Romania, Slovenia and Norway).

Encouraging Collective Farmers Marketing Initiatives – COFAMI (2005-2008)
The project researched the social, economic, cultural and political factors supporting or hampering collective farmers marketing initiatives. Research groups from ten European countries were coordinated by the University of Wageningen in this EU 6th framework project.

Eco-Regions as a model for sustainable regional development (2005-2007)
This action research project accompanied four pilot regions in Austria in the application of principles of organic farming on a territorial scale.

Implementation of sustainable agriculture and rural development in alpine mountains – IMALP (2003-2006)
The aim of this EU-funded research project (5th framework program) was to analyze the initiation and implementation of collective projects for sustainable agriculture and rural development in alpine regions. Research groups from France (coordinator), Switzerland, Italy and Austria (Working Group Rural Changes) were partners.

Organic Marketing Initiatives and Rural Development – OMIaRD (2001-2003)
Different aspects of organic marketing and their impact on rural development were in the focus of this EU-funded project (5th framework program) which assembled ten groups from eight European countries with the University of Aberystwith (Wales) as coordinator.