Knowing Rural: Situating the Lived Experience of Rurality in Definitions of Rural
Around the globe, official definitions of “rural” vary, and each definition has implications for how we understand and give meaning to rural spaces and places. In the U.S. and Canada, official definitions of rural places are based on population size: the U.S. defines rural as locations with 2,500 or fewer residents, while Canada classifies rural based on population size but also on density of 400 or fewer residents per square kilometer. In other countries, rurality includes both population size and more qualitative concepts. In England, for instance, rural classification is based on distance from services, while in India, rural is defined as sites where a majority of male workers are employed in agriculture or related occupations. These definitions identify rural spaces by population, occupation and gender and each designation implies much about rural life. Density of population is closely tied to density of acquaintanceship; distance to services may imply inequities in terms of access to valued services such as health care. In other words, defining the rural also specifies some features of the lived experience of those who inhabit rural spaces.
Making sense of rural experiences requires understanding the diverse geographies, economies, and communities that make up rural places. After all, rural landscapes include sites of high-amenity recreation, industrialized agriculture production, chemical processing plants, prisons and pocket-size organic farms. And these sites are undergoing significant change. As rural populations age and rural communities confront the emergent complexities of contemporary life, the lived experience of rurality is undergoing rapid transformation.
What social, economic and political factors are shaping and re-shaping the lived experience of rural populations? How are rural populations responding to and adapting to these changes? How are these changes transforming rural landscapes? And, finally, how might these changes challenge the ways we all understand and define rurality? At our next annual meeting we will explore these and many related questions. We look forward to seeing you in Madison!