A Sociology of the Periphery Versus a Peripheral Sociology: Rural Sociology and the Dimension of Space1


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    This article is a contribution to the USDA National Research Competitive Grants Program, project #93–37401-8972. The author gratefully acknowledges the helpful comments of reviewers Clare Hinrichs, Tom Lyson, Shaunna Scott, Ann Tickamyer, and particularly, Gil Gillespie, who provided thoughtful and extensive suggestions which made this a better piece.


Abstract Rural sociology is intrinsically concerned with the spatial dimensions of social life. However, this underlying research tradition, particularly the use of space as a research strategy, has been insufficiently addressed and its contributions to general sociology are little recognized. I outline how concern with space, uneven development, and the social relationships of peripheral settings have provided substantive boundary and conceptual meaning to rural sociology, propelled its evolution, and left it with a legacy of strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. A willingness to tackle the dimension of space and the thorny problems it raises often sets rural sociologists apart from other sociologists. This research tradition contrasted with general sociology's concern with developing generalization, aspatial covering laws, and proto-typical relationships of modern or Fordist development settings. Conceptual openings have left sociologists questioning their past agenda. Coupled with the “creative marginality” inherent in the questions and contexts addressed by rural sociologists, this makes the subfield central to contemporary sociology.