The key organizing theme for this special issue is “Sustaining Rural Systems: Rural Vitality in an Era of Globalization and Economic Nationalism.” The multiplicity of roles that rural communities play in economic and social systems are often overlooked in conversations about globalization and economic nationalism. Yet rural communities, economies and landscapes are closely tied to global industries, migrant flows and markets, while simultaneously subject to nationalist economic policies and strategies. These articles are drawn from the 2019 International Geographical Union Commission on the Sustainability of Rural Systems Colloquium and examine the interplay between rural places and the competing narratives of globalization and nationalism. The studies come from Croatia, Belgium, Australia, the USA, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Italy and Spain. In each article, the authors seek to elucidate the nuanced ties between people and industries that are at once intensely local and simultaneously tied to regional and global processes. The articles challenge us to critically examine oversimplified messaging of highly complex systems and provide insights into processes of change at local scales across major global regions, highlighting the contemporary status of rural change through the lens of sustainability and set within current competing narratives of globalization and economic nationalism.