International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, vol 9, pp 429-441
Rural geography may be simply defined as the study of people, places, and landscapes in rural areas, and of the social and economic processes that shape these geographies. However, as the definition of ‘rural’ has become increasingly difficult and contested, the boundaries of ‘rural geography’ have been tested. Rural geography today is hence a diverse and dynamic subdiscipline. Traditional areas of study including agricultural geography, resource management and conservation, land use and planning, population and migration, economic development, settlement patterns, rural infrastructure and recreation and tourism, have been joined by newer concerns such as poverty and social welfare, governance and politics, rural culture and media representations, and the ‘neglected rural geographies’ of ‘othered’ groups. There is a long history of studying rural settlements and land uses in geography, but these areas of research had fallen out of favor by the 1950s and 1960s. The formal subdiscipline of ‘rural geography’ as we know it today really emerged in the 1970s, as an attempt to promote an integrated approach to the study of rural areas which combined agricultural geography with other aspects of rural life. Early work in the new rural geography was strongly empirical in focus and was critiqued by the adoption of a political-economy perspective by geographers drawing on ‘critical rural studies’ in rural sociology. A further theoretical advance resulted from the ‘cultural turn’ in the 1990s, which introduced post-structuralist theory and prompted interest in the multiple experiences of rural life by different social groups. These various influences are all evident in rural geography as practiced today; however, variations still exist in the emphasis and conceptual tendencies of rural geography in different countries, reflecting particular national contexts that have framed research agendas and the varying strength of rural geography compared with related disciplines such as rural sociology.