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rural community

  A collection of socially interacting people living in a rural area, and often sharing one or more common ties. As with rurality (see rural and rural geography), community has been defined in widely different ways: G.A. Hillery\'s (1955) study revealed 94 specific definitions.

Geographers have leaned heavily on the work of anthropologists and sociologists in their evolving understanding of rural community. Early structural-functionalist studies portrayed rural communities as resilient in the face of change and distinctively different from their urban counterparts. Tönnies\' (1955) concept of Gemeinschaft was adopted to describe close kinship relations linked to a particular rural place leading to cooperative action for the common good (see rural-urban continuum). It was soon extended to cover actual social structures resulting in particular settlement forms, and this extension has been heavily criticized (see Harper, 1989).

Two different strands of rural community study emerged from this critique. The first consists of new rural ethnographies which address the question of whether people are \'truly rural\' in their lived worlds and whether there is an \'essence\' in the emerging place of a village. A key theme here is centredness (Harper, 1987). It is argued that centred rural people will confine most of their physical, social and symbolic relationships to one rural place, and that centred rural places occur when the majority of their inhabitants are centred rural people. Truly rural communities will thus reflect centred people in centred places (see Bell, 1994).

The second strand of study stresses the use of community as a mechanism for interpreting wider organizations and social relations. Fred Buttel in the USA and Howard Newby in the UK have both investigated the agricultural power relations which underlie changes in rural communities (Newby, 1977; Newby et al., 1978; Buttel et al., 1990). As in-migrant middle classes have exerted greater influence, so studies of the interrelations between new class fractions and rural communities have become increasingly important. Here the notion of cultural competences helps the understanding of how in-migrants do/do not fit into the community (Cloke et al., 1998). The recognition of social groups who are being marginalized by wider economic and social changes has also become important (see Cloke et al., 1997).

There is still little common ground in the conceptualization of community in rural studies, and the term is still frequently used simply to denote a collection of people in a particular place. This is especially so when used in the context of rural planning, in which the discourses of community analysis, community development and community renewal continue to infer the need for cooperative good. Here community is often merged with sustainability (see sustainable development) to suggest long-term strategies for development in rural communities. (PJC)

References Bell, M.M. 1994: Childerley: nature and morality in a country village. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Buttel, F.H., Larson, O.F. and Gillespie, G.W. 1990: The sociology of agriculture. New York: Greenwood. Cloke, P., Goodwin, M. and Milbourne, P. 1997: Rural Wales, community and marginalisation. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. Cloke, P., Goodwin, M. and Milbourne, P. 1998: Inside looking out; outside looking in. Different experiences of cultural competence in rural lifestyles. In P. Boyle and K. Halfacree, eds, Migration into rural areas. Chichester: Wiley, 134-50. Harper, S. 1987: A humanistic approach to the study of rural populations. Journal of Rural Studies 3: 309-20. Harper, S. 1989: The British rural community: an overview of perspectives. Journal of Rural Studies 5: 161-84. Hillery, G.A. 1955: Definitions of community: areas of agreement. Rural Sociology 20: 111-23. Newby, H. 1977: The deferential worker. London: Allen Lane. Newby, H., Bell, C., Rose, D. and Saunders, P. 1978: Property, paternalism and power. London: Hutchinson. Tonnies, F. 1955 [orig. pub. 1887]: Community and society. New York: Harper & Row.

Suggested Reading Cloke, P. and Thrift, N. 1990: Class change and conflict in rural areas. In T. Marsden, P. Lowe and S. Whatmore, eds, Rural restructuring: global processes and their responses. London: David Fulton. Cloke, P., Phillips, M. and Thrift, N. 1995: The new middle classes and the social constructs of rural living. In T. Butler and M. Savage, eds, Social change and the middle classes. London: University College Press, 220-40. Murray, M. and Dunn, L. 1996: Revitalizing rural America: a perspective on collaboration and community. Chichester: Wiley. Urry, J. 1995: A middle-class countryside? In T. Butler and M. Savage, eds, Social change and the middle classes. London: University College Press, 205-19.



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