3 February 2009

Signs of the Post-Rural: Marketing Myths of a Symbolic Countryside

Jeffrey Hopkins
1 The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A 5C2, Canada

Geography is currently in the midst of reinterpreting the 'rural'. There are calls within tourism studies, rural geography and cultural geography for further investigation into the new meanings represented in rural places, their emergent rural identities, and the need to take postmodernism and the construction of the rural more seriously. This paper presents a critical interpretation of the format, content and signs used to represent, commodify and promote as countryside a landscape adjacent to the eastern coast of Lake Huron in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. Following a brief review of the place promotion literature and the postmodern cultural context of contemporary tourism, the socio-semiotic approach employed in the analysis is explained. Using 210 pieces of printed place promotional material, gathered at tourist information booths along a provincially designated tourist route, the slogans, logos (icons), and place myths used to differentiate the rural from the urban are identified, and their role in constructing, commodifying and marketing a symbolic countryside is made clear. It is argued that the tourist landscape signified in the promotional material is a symbolic cultural landscape that draws upon dominant Anglo-American ideals of the countryside to give identity to the material landscape. The advertising discourse is thus a symbolic space where an imaginary, mythical countryside is situated; here the 'rural' is commodified and sustained by 'uneasy pleasures': the tensions created between a consumer's willing suspension of disbelief and their knowledge of an advertiser's persuasive intentions. These signs of the 'post-rural' constitute a 'rural' that is a transferable brand name—a free-floating signifier—used to give meaning, value and character to any place commodity in need of a marketable identity.