This article explores the emergence over the last decade of a new approach to rural development studies in Latin America known as the ‘new rurality’. The various interpretations and ambiguities of this approach as well as the ensuing debates are discussed. Analysis focuses on four major transformations in the rural economy and society which are usually highlighted by the ‘new ruralists’. These changes are interpreted as arising from the region's neoliberal shift and its closer insertion into the global system. A novel distinction is made between reformist and communitarian proposals for a new rurality. The merits as well as the limitations of this new approach to rural studies are examined.