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Rural sociology

Rural sociology is a field of sociology associated with the study of life in small towns and the country. It is a scientific study of social arrangements and behaviour amongst peoples that are distanced from points of concentrated activity. Much of rural sociology involves the examination of statistical data.

Agribusiness is the predominant focus of rural sociology and much of this field is dedicated to the economics of farm production.


Definition of Rural

Sociologists define rural as those areas which are not urban. Rural sociology, then, contrasts with urban sociology. Urban areas are usually defined in terms of size and population density. The line between urban and rural is quite arbitrary. However, rural settlement patterns tend to be, relatively, small in scale and low in density.

In the US, a rural region is one with fewer than 2,500 people. In Japan, a rural region is one with fewer than 50,000 people. Meanwhile, some places with 1,000 people seem quite urbanized while other places with 15,000 people seem quite rural. Also, many "rural" areas are adjacent to very large metropolises.

1995, there were 2,288 rural counties in the US, constituting 83% of the land and home to 21% (51,000,000) of the population. (1)

Rural Economic Trends

  • Net cash farm income was projected at US$ 53.7 billion for 1999.

Currently, rural capital is flowing into either urban areas or some 33-40% of rural counties, namely the intermountain West , the Ozarks, counties along I-80 in Nebraska, and the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. The growth of wealth is concentrated near urban areas, transportation corridors, and scenic amenities. (2)(3).

Rural America is also experiencing an economic slump, for instance in 1999 the prices for sweetcorn, wheat, and soybeans were all down about 33% from the 1995-1998 average. Food production is being subsidized by off-farm income. Working second and third jobs is the only way many farmers can survive. In 1974, 80% of farm operators were primarily farmers, by 1997 that had dropped to 60%. (4)

Natural resource-based industries within rural areas are experiencing resource depletion. The economic importance of mining, light manufacturing, and agriculture are considered to be on the decline within these areas.

Issues in Rural America

Rural society is faced with various problems including the environmental degradation and overuse of water resources, the establishment and inadequate regulation of toxic waste dumps, and poverty. The loss of rural population to urban areas is also an area of concern, especially in northern states, such as North Dakota.

Fred Buttel asks, "Will we witness a further erosion of commitment to improving the livelihoods of the rural poor?"

History of Rural Sociology

Rural sociology became prominent during the late industrial revolution in France, Ireland, Prussia, Scandinavia, and the US. As urban incomes and quality of life rose, a social gap appeared between urban and rural dwellers.

Early works of Max Weber in the late 19th century has been concerned with rural sociology. In the 1920s, Edmund deS. Brunner studied some 140 villages as director of the Institute for Social and Religious Research , he reported that as agriculture mechanized, farms were growing larger.

After World War II, modern rural sociology began to appear in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK.

Key Topics in Rural Sociology:

See also: List of literature on rural sociology, Important publications in rural sociology

American Agricultural Economic Association , country life movement , European Society for Rural Sociology , Galpin, Charles J. , granger movement, Hibbard, Benjamin , Morrill Act, populist movement , Purnell Act of 1925 , report of the commission on country life (1911) , Rural Sociological Society , Taylor, Henry, Turner, Jonathan Baldwin, US Department of Agriculture, Warren, George


Last updated: 02-10-2005 13:05:38
Last updated: 02-27-2005 05:09:20