Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Rural Sociology in New Zealand: Companion Planting?

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Rural Sociology in New Zealand: Companion Planting?

Article excerpt


A history of rural sociology in New Zealand is a deceptively simple task. Rural sociology as a discipline has long encapsulated diverse interests, from community studies to searching out the linkages within and between the increasingly large multinationals that dominate the food chain. The definition of rural has drawn the attention of rural sociologists themselves inwards, as they debate what should be their proper focus. Pahl's famous article on the urban-rural continuum released a round of introspection on the changing nature of rural life and this introspection continues in New Zealand and provides a basis for this review essay (Pahl, 1966). I have identified three periods, each having its share of reviews and commentaries on the nature of rural research, if not of rural sociology. These periods include presociological and early rural sociology, the government oriented work of the 1980s1990s, and the birth of the Australasian Agri-food connection which is linked to the period between 2000-2015 in which rural research has been dominated by multimillion dollar research projects, especially those hosted by The Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food and Environment (CSAFE)1. Whether they have addressed themselves to rural sociology, the sociology of agriculture, or social science related to rural issues, they all contribute to setting an agenda for reflection.

Methods for review

A common strategy in earlier reviews has been to survey the major journals whose editorial policy claims rural sociology, or those in which rural sociologists are known to publish (Fairweather and Gilles, 1982; Friedland, 2010; Zablocki, 2013). Given that the key journals are linked to different cultural/geographic divisions - Rural Sociology with its United States focus, Sociología Ruralis its European one, this has had the added advantage for those wishing to learn from the differing trajectories of each community of scholars. To avoid being trapped by my preconceptions of the New Zealand field, I also used this strategy to check who was publishing in this area. A search of Rural Sociology, Sociologia Ruralis, Journal of Rural Studies, and Agriculture and Human Values was carried out and identified a small number of publications in each by New Zealanders, most of whom were working within one of the networks identified in this article. Another search of New Zealand Sociology and The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology confirmed that few rural sociologists were publishing in local non-specialist journals. I supplemented this with interviews with rural sociologists (Hugh Campbell, Ian Carter, Charles Crothers, Bruce Curtis, John Fairweather, Ann Pomeroy and Claudia Bell) and a search for materials specifically addressing the history of the discipline. This confirmed that periodisation should address the ebb and flow of relationship between policy and research, funding as well as academic dynamics, and the importance of key individuals in promoting research agendas. Each period reveals people shifting between rural sociology and related social sciences, in terms of their self-designation and the journals in which they publish. This is not a review of all research related to rural issues, but will attend to some of this movement, and will try to track use of rural sociology or the sociology of agriculture, as a marker of affiliation to particular strands of sociology. In New Zealand, the dominance of farming or food and fibre production gives rural sociology a special significance and if it is somewhat in tension with rural studies, this can be acknowledged as a creative force rather than a narrative of concern. Environmental history, social history, and labour history have all identified rural development in response to the needs of the British Empire as shaping New Zealand, with rural sociology addressing more recent history - post World War One up to the present day.

The first analysts of rural life: sociologists and their predecessors

New Zealand has a history of people Brickell names "other sociologists" who were social analysts before formal sociology was established (Brickell, 2007: 4). …

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