Rural sociology is a field of sociology traditionally associated with the study of social structure and conflict rural areas although topical areas such as food and agriculture or natural resource access transcend traditional rural spatial boundaries. It is an active field in much of the world, and in the United States originated in the 1910s with close ties to the national Department of Agriculture and land-grant university colleges of agriculture.
The sociology of food and agriculture is one focus of rural sociology and much of the field is dedicated to the economics of farm production. Other areas of study include rural migration and other demographic patterns, environmental sociology, amenity-led development, public lands policies, so-called "boomtown" development, social disruption, the sociology of natural resources (including forests, mining, fishing and other areas), rural cultures and identities, rural health care and educational policies. Many rural sociologists work in the areas of development studies, community studies, community development and in environmental studies. Much of the research involves the Third World.
Rural sociology was the first and for a time the largest branch of American Sociology.
Rural sociology in Europe developed not in the old established universities but in the new countries that emerged after 1919 and were strongly influenced by the political philosophy of Agrarianism, which promoted the farmer as the strength of society. Czechoslovakia opened three research centers, and others opened in Romania and Yugoslavia.
Smith (2011) says the field today is in poor shape:
"Rural sociology has fallen into a chronic state of crisis, distraught, in turns, by the discipline’s theoretical paucity, its institutional isolation, its estrangement from the more general discipline of sociology, and, at base, its seeming irrelevance to modern urban society."
The mission statements of university departments of rural sociology have expanded to include more topics, such as sustainable development. For example at the University of Missouri the mission is:
"The Department of Rural Sociology at the University of Missouri employs the theoretical and methodological tools of rural sociology to address challenges of the 21st century – preserving our natural resources, providing safe and nutritious food for an expanding population, adapting to climate changes, and maintaining sustainable rural livelihoods."
The University of Wisconsin set up one of the first departments of rural sociology. It has now dropped the term "rural" and changed its name to the "Department of Community and Environmental Sociology." Similarly, the Rural Sociology Program at the University of Kentucky has evolved into the. "Department of Community and Leadership Development," while transferring the graduate program in rural sociology to the Sociology Department.
Scholarly associations in rural sociology include:
- The Rural Sociological Society (RSS), of the United States, was formed in 1937 after years of discussion as a spinoff of the American Sociological Society. It publishes the scholarly quarterly journal Rural Sociology. The full run of back issues is online from 1936-89 through Cornell University Library's program of putting online core historical resources in rural sociology.
- The European Society for Rural Sociology (ESRA) was founded in 1957. It says it is "the leading European association for scientists involved in the study of agriculture and fisheries, food production and consumption, rural development and change, rurality and cultural heritage, equality and inequality in rural society, and nature and environmental care."
- The International Rural Sociology Association (IRSA) has as its mission, to "foster the development of rural sociology; further the application of sociological inquiry to the improvement of the quality of rural life; and provide a mechanism whereby rural sociologists can generate dialogue and useful exchange." It published the International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food.
- The International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR) publishes the Journal of Society and Natural Resources.
Several academic journals are published in the field of (or closely related to) rural sociology, including:
- Agriculture and Human Values
- Journal of Agrarian Change
- Journal of Peasant Studies
- Journal of Rural Studies
- Rural Sociology
- Society and Natural Resources
- Sociologia Ruralis
- Nelson, 1969
- Lowry Nelson, Rural Sociology: Its Origins and Growth in the United States (1969)
- Edmund deS. Brunner, The Growth of a Science: A Half-Century of Rural Sociological Research in the United States (1957)
- Nicholas Mirkowich, "Beginnings of Rural Sociology in Yugoslavia," Rural Sociology (1940) 5#3 pp. 351-4 online
- Smith 2011
- See "About Rural Sociology and Sustainable Development"
- See "Who We Are"
- See "The Department of Community and Leadership Development"
- See webpage
- See listing
- See homepage
- See homepage
- See homepage
- Brunner, E. d. The Growth of a Science: A Half-Century of Rural Sociological Research in the United States (Harper & Brothers, 1957).
- Friedland, W. H. "The End of Rural Society and the Future of Rural Sociology." Rural Sociology (1982) 47(4): 589-608.
- Goreham, Gary A. ed. The Encyclopedia of Rural America: The Land and People (2 Volume, 2nd ed. 2008), 1341pp
- Hanson, Victor Davis. The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization (1999) excerpt and text search
- Nelson, L. Rural Sociology: Its Origins and Growth in the United States (University of Minnesota Press, 1969).
- Rani, Asha and Gajanafar Alam. Encyclopaedia of Urban & Rural Sociology : Social & Psychological Behaviour (3 Vol, 2012)
- Smith, Suzanne. "The Institutional and Intellectual Origins of Rural Sociology" (Paper for 2011 Rural Sociology Assn. meeting) online
- Sorokin, Pitirim A., Carle Zimmerman and Charles Galpin. A Systematic Source Book In Rural Sociology (3 vol 1931) excerpt and text search v 1; world perspective
- Sorokin, Pitirim A. and C. C. Zimmerman Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology (1929), world perspective
- Thomas, William I., and Florian Znaniecki. The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (2 vol. 1918); classic sociological study; complete text online free
- European Society for Rural Sociology
- Rural Sociological Society
- Rural Sociology back issues, 1938-1989