Rural Sociology

Rural sociology is a discipline that examines the social and economic organization, evolution and interaction among residents of communities containing a small percentage of a national population. The primary aim of rural sociology is to generate an improvement in the social and living conditions of the people inhabiting the land. Rural sociology originated as a discipline in teaching and research as a part of the general desire to improve American agricultural life. A large proportion of the subject matter is based on the statistical analysis of farm and rural populations created during field studies.

Rural sociology's early practitioners were active members of the American Sociological Society, later renamed as the American Sociological Association; 1937 saw the founding of the independent Rural Sociological Society (RSS), which promoted teaching, research, and outreach. The university land-grant system, founded by the Morrill Land-Grant College Acts of 1862 and 1890, was brought in to benefit and enhance the study of rural communities. The creation of these acts allowed Connecticut and thirteen other states to establish agricultural experiment stations to specifically address and investigate the development of practical agricultural information for ranchers and rural farmers.

The movement culminated in 1887 with the passing of the Hatch Act, which forged the federal-state partnership for funding agricultural science. This was followed by the 1914 Smith-Lever public service counterpart act. These acts provided ordinary people with access to their state universities for assistance and advice. Early rural sociology programs and their research were and continue to be mostly affiliated with institutional partnerships between universities and agricultural experiment stations along with cooperative extension both at the state level and with counterparts in the United States Department of Agriculture.

Following the pioneering the work of American sociologists WE.B. DuBois and F.H. Gidding, rural sociology became significantly influenced by the Country Life Commission created by President Theodore Roosevelt. A 1909 report by the commission looking at twelve rural communities highlighted problems of crime, poverty, and population change. The governance of many rural communities at that time revealed the urgent need for a land-grant system in order to devote social science expertise to solve these problems. The 1925 creation of the Purnell Act expanded federal commitment to experiment station research by funding studies in agricultural economics, rural sociology, and home economics. Trends became increasingly urban and industrialized in the post–World War II United States, leading to rural sociology's loss of stature. The public policy process and programs diminished with the dismantling of New Deal programs in the 1940s and the Division of Farm Population's successor, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, in 1953.

The final quarter of the 20th century saw a renewed interest in rural sociology. In 1976 the first committee meeting organized by the International Rural Sociology Association (IRSA) was held to draw attention to the impact of globalization on rural development. The association has networks and branches in every continent, and holds a congress every four years. Sociology of agriculture became the new label that drew on this research history. As part of this development, new areas of research began to include the social significance of women in agriculture, new biotechnologies, the expansion of industrialized agriculture and agribusiness, and the globalization of agro-industrialized systems. In their 1988 book Rural Sociology and the Environment, Don Field and William Burch Jr. recognized important connections between aspects of agricultural sociology, natural resource sociology, and human ecology. They termed this research field "agro-ecology", and proposed it serve as a definitive guide for rural development and as a critical component of applied environmental sociology.

Gary Goreham's The Encyclopedia of Rural America (1997) is considered to be the most comprehensive inventory of its kind, containing articles by prominent rural sociologists and other scholars over the course of 232 topics which vary from agriculture, rural industries, rural youth, the elderly, women and minority groups, crime, culture, technology, and natural resources and the environment. Community and economic development continue to be important research and policy issues. Economic globalization challenges rural communities everywhere. While many businesses and manufacturing companies seek out lower-cost production areas and lucrative markets, rural communities continue to seek ways in which to overcome infrastructural, capital, resource, and policy obstacles to promote development and competitiveness.

Rural sociologists are called on by others to research and assist in action programs because it is believed that they will maintain a high degree of objectivity. People preparing for professional work in rural areas such as teachers, ministers, and even lawyers and physicians, now study rural sociology as a part of their professional training.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Sociology of Rural Life
Sam Hillyard.
Berg, 2007
The Hidden America: Social Problems in Rural America for the Twenty-First Century
Robert M. Moore III.
Susquehanna University Press, 2001
Changing Rural Social Systems: Adaptation and Survival
Nan E. Johnson; Ching-Li Wang.
Michigan State University Press, 1997
Rural Poverty: Marginalisation and Exclusion in Britain and the United States
Paul Milbourne.
Routledge, 2004
African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950
R. Douglas Hurt.
University of Missouri Press, 2003
Long Time Coming: Racial Inequality in the Nonmetropolitan South, 1940-1990
Mark A. Fossett; M. Therese Seibert.
Westview Press, 1997
Mule South to Tractor South: Mules, Machines, and the Transformation of the Cotton South
George B. Ellenberg.
University of Alabama Press, 2007
Garden Spot: Lancaster County, the Old Order Amish, and the Selling of Rural America
David Walbert.
Oxford University Press, 2002
Agrarian Women: Wives and Mothers in Rural Nebraska, 1880-1940
Deborah Fink.
University of North Carolina Press, 1992
The Transformation of Rural Life: Southern Illinois, 1890-1990
Jane Adams.
University of North Carolina Press, 1994
Mama Learned Us to Work: Farm Women in the New South
Lu Ann Jones.
University of North Carolina Press, 2002
Modern Japanese Society
Josef Kreiner; Ulrich MÖhwald; Hans Dieter Ölschleger.
Brill, 2004
Librarian’s tip: "Rural Society" begins on p. 257
The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales
David W. Howell.
University of Wales Press, 2000
Social Capital and the Rural Church
Mitchell, Rol.
Rural Society, Vol. 17, No. 3, December 2007
Beyond Education and Employment: Exploring Youth Experiences of Their Communities, Place Attachment and Reasons for Migration
Eacott, Chelsea; Sonn, Christopher C.
Rural Society, Vol. 16, No. 2, May 1, 2006
Under the Rainbow: Rural Gay Life and Its Relevance for Family Providers
Oswald, Ramona Faith; Culton, Linda S.
Family Relations, Vol. 52, No. 1, January 2003
Recreation, Arts, Events and Festivals: Their Contribution to a Sense of Community in the Colac-Otway Shire of Country Victoria
Schwarz, Eric C.; Tait, Robin.
Rural Society, Vol. 17, No. 2, October 2007
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