Main content area

Re-imagining the rural: From rural idyll to Good Countryside

Shucksmith, Mark
Journal of rural studies 2018 v.59 pp. 163-172
consciousness, rural areas, rural development, rural sociologists
Rural studies have highlighted a rural idyll as something to which many aspire, perhaps as a vision of a good place to live or as a repository of values. But harking back to an imagined past is recognized as normative and power-infused, often serving the interests of the powerful. How far should this nostalgia for an imagined golden age of indeterminate date inform a vision for a desired future? This paper seeks to begin, and indeed to provoke, discussion of what might constitute visions for rural futures, or our collective imaginaries of rural places into the twenty-first century, of a Good Countryside to work towards. What morality might underpin such imaginaries? And how might we approach such a task? One approach might be to employ utopian thinking as a means of identifying and imagining desired alternative futures, drawing upon Levitas' argument for utopia as a form of anticipatory consciousness - the not yet - in contrast to the essentially backward looking rural idyll. Four registers from urban studies - repair, relatedness, rights, re-enchantment - are then taken as a point of departure for deliberation on what morality might underpin a Good Countryside, and whether this might differ between urban and rural contexts. A discussion ensues on how to proceed in practice, both in eliminating evils and in pursuing collective forward dreaming and anticipatory consciousness, for example through place-shaping or networked rural development. Finally, the discussion reflects on what scholarly and practical roles rural sociologists might play in these processes.