20 Apr

Alternative and Virtual Rurality: Agriculture and the Countryside as Embodied in American Imagination

Preview by Lisa M. Butler Harrington

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What is the main purpose of your study?
The paper describes several ways in which attachment to rural environments and livelihoods are displayed in the United States. These range from recreation and tourism destinations to ‘agrihoods,’ farmers’ markets, and development names.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?
Recognizing both the potentially positive and negative effects of the ways that rurality is played out may aid planning and other actions to maximize benefits to both rural places and wider society. Effects include environmental fragmentation, infrastructural needs, rural economics, changes in land management, support for new types of integration of communities or neighborhoods with food production, and reinforcement of values like independence, community-building, and connection to nature and natural resources (with positive health effects). Recognizing attachments to ideals of a type of place in popular culture also aids our understanding of views of what is ‘good’ about the United States and its history.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Other authors have written about the “rural idyll,” particularly in Great Britain but also in other parts of Europe and North America over the last several decades. This is an update on how people connect to rural places in the United States, with several current illustrations. It also connects to work on place attachment and perceptions of place by approaching a kind of place rather than a specific place.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
Numerous connections to rural conditions and villages are displayed on the American landscape. In spite of having a population that is now much more urban than rural, like much of the more economically developed world, Americans continue to display an apparent fondness for their nation’s rural history.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
Much of the work on place addresses people’s perceptions and attachments to specific places. This study takes a broader view of place attachment by looking at how Americans display positive perceptions and attachments to broad types of place (rural areas and very small towns). Attachments often appear as “virtual rurality” – situations where people create some sort of visible connection to idealized rural conditions without following traditional rural livelihoods.

How does your research help us think about Geography?
This study is related to a number of themes in geography, including land use, place attachment, and place perceptions. It helps us recognize how people visibly connect to place and to place ideals on the landscape.