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Revisiting ‘rural’

MacGregor-Fors, Ian, Vázquez, Luis-Bernardo
The Science of the total environment 2019
ecosystems, humans, researchers, rural areas, surveys
‘Rural’ is widely referred to across an array of disciplines. Often used to broadly describe study groups or areas, the definition of ‘rural’ has been subject to discussion and debate, triggering a diverse set of conceptual and practical meanings of the term. This has resulted in important ambiguity related to the concept of ‘rural’ and the pressing need to build an integral framework that allows its standardization. Here we assess the current conception from the academic arena through a global survey of researchers. Our results show that ‘rural’ is widely defined with no clear consensus even about the central components of its definition. We found marked variation in the conception of ‘rural’ among respondents, but area of expertise showed less influence than region of origin. We suggest a hierarchical, context-dependent, and integrative framework that considers an urban–non-urban dichotomy followed by a trichotomy based on human presence and activities, encompassing all social and ecological systems on Earth.