Rural Sociology: A Slightly Personal History

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Book Chapter

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This chapter presents a brief history of American Rural Sociology. It discusses the key early figures, such as C.J. Galpin, Kenyon Butterfield, Dwight Sanderson, and Thomas Carver Nixon. But the focus is on the next generation, and the distinctive institutional character of rural sociology as it developed in the twenties and thirties, and evolved in relation to events in the postwar period. Rural sociology shared many features with the “Social Survey” movement, including its commitment to community development, and to some extent its methods. The “Survey Movement” petered out, for reasons having to do with the willingness of communities to subject themselves to the kind of scrutiny needed for reform. The community studies of Rural Sociology were caught between similar forces, and were also politically vulnerable. Postwar rural sociology responded to these vulnerabilities, but faced changes in agriculture that undermined the original purpose of im - proving rural life. The field nevertheless retained its commitment to engagement, and found new ways of doing so. In this respect, it deviated significantly from general, which had an acrimonious split from the survey movement. Ironically, however, general sociology has returned to engagement, at a time that rural sociology has lost its original subject matter and raison d’être.

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Rural Sociology: A Slightly Personal History, in J. H. Bakker (Ed.), Rural Sociologists at Work: Candid Accounts of Theory, Method, and Practice, Routledge, p. 9-33