The governance of rural landscapes over the last few decades has become increasingly 'wicked' or 'institutionally complex'. While the need for regional institutional integration is now widely recognised by a range of policymakers (within and outside of the environmental policy arena), we have only a rudimentary understanding of how it might be achieved.
This thesis draws on diverse literatures from political science, public administration, planning, sociology, anthropology, and geography, which focus on the role of social capital, policy networks and scale in complex state-society relations as they relate to rural landscape governance. It builds a 'regional institutional integration diagnostic' highlighting the central role of knowledge and power in regionally integrative (or non-integrative) 'structures', 'functions', 'processes', 'information', 'facilitators' and 'contexts'.
Using a case study
methodology, the diagnostic explores how formal arrangements (such as specific regional planning initiatives), informal arrangements (such as social capital), and other arrangements that occupy the messy middle ground between (such as policy networks) actually foster or hinder institutional integration for the purposes of regional governance. Case analyses from Australia and the USA demonstrate that the usual recommendations to/by policymakers concerned with 'integrated rural governance' or 'sustainable regional development' are littered with unexplored assumptions and conceptual confusions.
The thesis concludes that, rather than framing rural sustainability in terms of fragmented and overlapping government institutions impeding the development and implementation of effective policy, a more appropriate approach would be to recognise the role of diverse institutions in mediating the multiple relationships between differently positioned actors operating in a
wide variety of arenas. The thesis concludes by reflecting on these empirical findings for our understanding of governance in democratic settings, and for our efforts to improve the governance of rural landscapes.