February 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 2

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What’s New at the Rural Sociological Society?

by Ralph B. Brown, Executive Director and Treasurer, Rural Sociological Society, with assistance from Willis Goudy, Kenneth Pigg, and Joachim Singlemann


In 2012, at its Annual Meeting to be held in the Palmer House Hotel, Chicago, IL, July 24-29, the Rural Sociological Society will celebrate its 75th anniversary. In 1921, the Rural Sociology Section was formed within the American Sociological Society (now ASA). By the mid 1930s its members were increasingly expressing concerns about the difficulty of getting articles published in traditional journals. Thus, with initial funding from Louisiana State University, the Rural Sociology Section launched the first four issues of the journal Rural Sociology in 1936. Additionally in 1936, a five-person subcommittee of the section was charged with returning to the next annual meeting with a recommendation on whether or not to stay with the American Sociological Society or to form their own organization. After considerable discussion, a vote to establish a separate organization carried and in 1938, the first annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) was held. Except for a period during World War II, the RSS has met annually since then.

What Is the RSS?

Since its inception as a separate professional society in 1937, the RSS has been, for lack of a better word, an “ecumenical" professional society. It is the professional home to sociologists, geographers, anthropologists, historians, and other professionals interested in the dynamics of rural social organization—scholars who are intrigued with the proposition that there remain unique sociological properties to rural social and geographic space. Who and what constitute “rural" has interesting political consequences as well. Today, across all agencies in the U.S. Federal Government, there exist at least 50 distinct definitions as to whom and what constitutes “rural," with 15 of these definitions dealing specifically with health issues alone.

"Who and what constitute “rural" has interesting political consequences as well. Today, across all agencies in the U.S. Federal Government, there exist
at least 50 distinct definitions as to whom and what constitutes “rural,"
with 15 of these definitions dealing specifically with health issues alone.

Members of the RSS have traditionally focused on these unique rural aspects of social life, producing a considerable corpus of research on natural resources and environment, community organization, and agriculture and food. Under these larger rubrics and many others, rural scholars address many of the quintessential sociological issues of: Power arrangements, social association and networking, social change, adoption and diffusion of new ideas and technologies, social and economic marginality and inequality, gender, and purposive/planned social change or development in the United States and internationally.

Changes at the RSS

Since 1936, the RSS has self-published its research journal Rural Sociology. It remains a respected journal in sociology and the social sciences in general. In 2008, the RSS Council realized that the RSS no longer had the resources to compete effectively in the rapidly changing global marketplace, especially regarding the effects of electronic publishing on distribution and access. After an extended review and negotiations with a variety of publishers, Wiley/Blackwell was selected as the new publisher of Rural Sociology beginning with Volume 75 in 2010. The shift to Wiley/Blackwell creates numerous opportunities for the RSS to penetrate new markets and create new opportunities for synergy and leverage in marketing a “package" of related journals concerning rural sociology and rural affairs.

In 2009, the RSS appointed Ralph B. Brown of Brigham Young University, as its first ever, but still part-time, Executive Director. As an all-voluntary association, appointing an Executive Director allows the RSS to better strategize changes in the society and serve its membership and clientele. By removing the burden of self-publishing from the RSS Business Office and turning it over to a professional publisher, the Business Office can now better concentrate on being innovative with its new and expanded degrees of freedom. Despite these changes, we remain a small to medium-sized volunteer organization. We are confident that our traditional areas of scholarly strength—natural resources, community, agriculture and food—pragmatically remain areas of great concern not only in the United States but in the rapidly urbanizing developing world. Many of the changes experienced in this country at the turn of the 20th century that brought the RSS into existence and maturity are now in full swing across the globe. We are confident we continue to have a unique and valuable intellectual product that serves scholars and people worldwide. We also seek collaborative efforts with the ASA and its members (64% of RSS members in 2009 were also members of ASA) and other organizations. We feel there are areas we not only excel in, but lead the way through innovation.

A Changing Field

In an attempt to further explore many of these changes, the 2010 Annual Meeting of the RSS, held in Atlanta, GA, August 12-15, under the leadership of Joachim Singlemann, President of RSS, will focus on changes in technologies over the past two decades, changes which now permit an economy of scale that is no longer dependent on spatial concentration, sharply intensifying the decentralization trend starting around the mid-20th century. Thomas Friedman, in his book The World Is Flat, called attention to the consequences of the telecommunication revolution in particular. Thus, the theme of the 2010 RSS annual meeting, How Flat Is Rural? Diversity in the Age of Globalization, takes up that notion to prompt rural sociology to examine the opportunities and challenges for rural areas that result from an increasingly globalized world. Aggressive positioning by rural areas in the restructuring of the global industrial landscape can result in unprecedented employment differentiation reducing the traditional role of agriculture as the main employer in many areas. The growing emphasis on green technologies and organic agricultural products will provide further opportunities for rural areas. Yet, the major challenge for rural areas is to become a participant in the globalized world. A failure to stay connected, to recognize and go after opportunities, and to resist diversity will result in being bypassed. A globalized world reduces the distance between cultures. Places that embrace diversity are more likely to prosper than those erecting barriers to it.

We invite scholars interested in our theme to attend and present at our annual meeting. Visit our website at www.ruralsociology.org.We also invite and encourage interested scholars to become a member of the RSS. logosmall

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