Relational rurals: Some thoughts on relating things and theory in rural studies

Jesse Heley, Laura Jones

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145 Citations (SciVal)


This paper considers how shifts within the social sciences towards conceptualising spatiality in relational terms have unfolded in rural studies in particular ways over the past decade or so. A period in which networks, connections, flows and mobility have all established themselves as compelling conceptual frames for research, the rural has increasingly been recast in relational terms as a multi-authored and multi-faceted space, constituted through local-global interconnections and their place specific, sometimes contested, manifestations. In this way, the multiple meanings of the rural continues to be a focus of critical concern, as are the implications ‘of’ and ‘in’ rural spaces for some of the major issues currently being faced by governments and citizens around the world; including climate change and food security. Apprehending the complexity of the rural in these terms, we argue, requires not only thinking space relationally, but at the same time being epistemologically relational or theoretically pluralist. That is, recognising the co-constituent production of rural space through material and discursive phenomenon, processes and practices, and thus the value of existing theoretical resources (social constructionism, political and economic materialism) in relation with the critical and rigorous appraisal of ‘new’ concepts and ideas to better comprehend rural space in its multidimensional complexity and particularity. To this end, we identify Cindi Katz's notion of ‘countertopography’ as a promising conceptual and methodological addition to the rural scholar's toolkit insofar as it attends to a politics of location and differentation in relation to global processes. We conclude our discussion by sketching out possible objects of countertopographical analysis for understanding ongoing processes of change in rural space(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-217
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • Relational space
  • countertopography
  • globalization
  • theory
  • place


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