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What Is Rural Sociology?

By Angela Farrer
Updated: May 23, 2024

Rural sociology is a scientific discipline focused on all aspects of a rural way of life, including its customs, demographics, and interactions with urban groups. This specific area of sociology explores rural society's role in the rest of the world, particularly in terms of economics and social theory. Many rural areas are rich centers of resources that sometimes face unique challenges due to changes in technology, infrastructure, and agribusiness. Scholars who study rural sociology often attempt to illustrate the differences between rural and urban life as well as the social issues that both types of populations have in common.

Aspects of rural social life are frequently quite different from those of urban areas. Many geographic regions are classified as rural when the average number of residents per square mile or kilometer falls below a certain benchmark. This population base number can vary according to census policies of different areas. Scholars who study rural sociology are often interested in how people who may live a significant distance from their nearest neighbors develop a sense of community. This area of sociology can also involve examining how rural settings sometimes require residents to become innovative in terms of economic viability in the midst of changes on a larger scale.

Agribusiness has a prominent role in rural sociology because a rural way of life has traditionally involved farming as the dominant means of income for most residents. Both small and large farms easily thrive in sparsely populated rural areas due to the availability of natural resources such as soil, water, sunlight, and wind that can be harnessed to create electrical power in some areas. Running a family-owned farm can have noticeable effects on the lives of everyone involved because time devoted to farm labor is often given higher priority over other pursuits, such as social interaction. Studies of rural versus urban sociology frequently note that people in each group assign different rates of value to time devoted to work versus time devoted to leisure or recreation.

The discipline of rural sociology is also concerned with certain factors and events that present challenges to a rural way of life. When agribusiness ownership shifts away from individual families to larger corporate entities, rural residents sometimes face financial implications, such as more limited employment opportunities. The associated social problems are additional areas of focus for some sociologists. These scholars usually examine the predominance of unemployment, crime, and family dysfunction in rural areas.

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Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Jul 03, 2014

@ddljohn-- I don't really see how people can interact with another and become close-knit when the closest neighbor lives at least several miles away! I think that's the type of rural environment that sociologists are most interested in.

By bluedolphin — On Jul 02, 2014

@ddljohn-- Rural and urban sociology are very interesting. I want to major in sociology and I would like to concentrate on these areas if possible.

As far as I know, the cost of living in rural areas are much lower. The price of food for example, is much higher in cities and their surroundings. On the other hand, there may be less opportunities to recreational activities in rural areas. Urban areas tend to be multi-cultural so people become familiar with different cultures and societies in cities.

By ddljohn — On Jul 02, 2014

I think both rural and urban life have their share of advantages and disadvantages.

Rural areas are not crowded and people may live a distance away from one another. But I think that these communities are far more close-knit than urban communities. People know one another better and crime rates are usually much lower in rural areas.

The downside to living in a rural area is that there are not many options for employment as the article said. So those who cannot or do not want to work on a farm will have less options for work. This can make it difficult to manage financially.

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