Growing a Radical Ruralism: Back-to-the-Land as Practice and Ideal



Back-to-the-land migration can be summarised as the intended adoption of a primarily agrarian lifestyle by individuals from non-agrarian backgrounds. Back-to-the-land has historically served as both an ideal and a set of practices, a set of push-and-pull factors that influence rural in-migration and a range of activities that work in service of this ambition. The radical shift in lifestyle that characterises this kind of migration is often tethered to a political radicalism, but one that is not easily identifiable in visible social movements or organised political action. Rather, it manifests itself in practices of self-sufficiency, alternative economic structures and experiments in social organisation. This review looks at the historical roots of back-to-the-land as a radical movement, asking what relevance it has for contemporary political issues such as human and non-human welfare, environmental sustainability and non-capitalist economic relations. A strong focus on the material dimensions of back-to-the-land is maintained, highlighting the specific potential of rural spaces to host and catalyse radical ambitions. Furthermore, a case is presented for interrogating the relationship between alternative agro-food networks (AAFNs) and back-to-the-land migrants, since these structures often provide an explicit articulation of their participants’ values and strategies.