As a consequence of the growth in Australian rural sociology over the past twenty years, Australian rural sociologists have had, and are having, a strong influence on the development of the discipline worldwide. They have held senior positions on, and are on research committees of, the International Sociological Association, the International Rural Sociological Association, the International Association for Impact Assessment, and the Community Development Society. They have been involved in the production of the International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food and the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. They have their own national journal, Rural Society, and many are involved in the Australasian Agri-Food Research Network. They have organised national and international meetings of rural sociologists, and are known to be very successful in obtaining nationally competitive research grants in Australia, and in helping to develop the framework for sustainable regional development. Importantly, rural sociology also has an important role in the training of professionals who will take their place as practitioners throughout the countryside. These include teachers, nurses, welfare and social workers, community developers, extension agents, policy planners, and catchment and Landcare facilitators – many of whom will have been trained in the 'new' universities of Charles Sturt, Central Queensland and Edith Cowan.
Despite its present vitality, rural sociology faces a number of challenges. One is that of ensuring that what is happening on 'the family farm' is not conflated with changes in wider rural society. Fortunately, the recent agri-food restructuring literature, including that from the sociology of food, has provided a reminder that a sociology of agriculture is only one component of any understanding of contemporary rural change. Another challenge is that of studying social exclusion/inclusion. Studies of the causes and consequences of rural social disadvantage are long overdue: there is a major and growing 'gap' in our understanding of the social determinants, and extent, of social disadvantage and exclusion in rural regions. This is particularly so of Indigenous Australians, whose health, housing and education is, by all accounts, a national disgrace. Neither are issues of governance well-understood in relation to regional Australia. While changes in the mode and scale of policy-making and service delivery are evident Australia-wide, the impacts of centralisation, devolution, and new modes of governing in rural Australia require detailed analysis. So, too, does the apparent 'institutional incapacity ' that can be observed in Australia's rural agency/policy arena. Finally, rural sociology must find new and better ways of answering one of the nation's most pressing questions – how to counter environmental degradation in the regions. We would argue that, given sufficient resources, rural sociology is well-equipped with the conceptual tools to undertake the relevant studies and to provide answers to the questions of crucial importance to the future of rural Australia.
Aitkin, D. 1985. Countrymindedness:The spread of an idea. Australian Cultural History 4:34–41.
Alston, M. (ed.). 1990. Rural Women. Key Papers 1. Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Rural Welfare Research, Charles Sturt University.