Just a Country Girl: Defining “Rural”

When working on my dissertation: “Southern Voices, Y’all: A Narrative Inquiry of First Generation, Working Class Women Students Originating from the Rural South,” I became aware of the realm of scholarship devoted to rural studies. It was my feeling that women growing up in the South encountered different cultural pressures that may shape their experiences as a college student, but it wasn’t until I started researching this idea that I began to think about what it means to be from the rural South.

Many people have certain images that come to mind when the South is mentioned, and rarely is it metropolises such as Atlanta or Houston. Certainly, these cites are classified as Southern, but for the purposes of my study, I am focusing on those country places.

This is when the idea of rurality comes in. I didn’t even know such a thing existed in the scholarly world. Although country music has idealized rurality since the beginning of the 20th century (“I was country…when country wasn’t cool…” “I’ve gone country…look at those boots” “A country boy can survive”), rural studies has existed for a while now, beginning in Europe when scholars began observing the differences between urban places and their rural counterparts (Brown & Schafft, 2011). In the social science world, “rural” is not just a place, but also a culture. While some might try to focus on social norms in terms of demographic, environment, and economy, more modern scholars acknowledge the culture of rural people as Durkheim’s notion of the rural definition, which he argued were the glue of rural communities: “the affinity of blood, attachment of the same soil, ancestral worship, and community of habits” (Brown & Schafft, 2011).

This makes so much sense to me.

Though my parents weren’t farmers, their parents picked seasonal crops as a means to survive, and their grandparents lived and died by the rain from the sky. Even though they weren’t farmers, our town was know for its main export: chickens.

Loyalty to the land, a common purpose, love of family, patriotism,…these are all things I’ve been taught from the beginning. Idealizing ancestors, even perhaps many who shouldn’t have been, is not so much taught as it was internalized. A community of habits, well, that speaks for itself. Hard work, not taking “handouts,” earning one’s keep, these are all things country people know.

There are some things country people should learn, but in their stubbornness, refuse to acknowledge, like voting against their own self interests.

I’ll address this virtue in a future post. For now, when you think of country, what comes to mind? Those of you who consider yourselves from the country, what about his life do you feel people misunderstand or misconstrue?

3 thoughts on “Just a Country Girl: Defining “Rural”

  1. My great grand parents and grand parents were farmers. We would walk the fields running our hands over the tops of the wheat. When it was just the right color, it was time to cut. Being a country girl without a farm did not matter in a farming community. Hard work and helping your neighbors was a way of life. Simple pleasures like a quick dip in a sping fed creek were the joys that drove life. Quick laughter as we rose before the sun came up. Feeding animals and working on equipment as the sun went down. Community was important. We caught crawdads, and crappie. Learned how to dress a deer, or rabbit. My brother trapped to earn extra cash. Summers were days in the garden or doing chores between bicycle rides and swimming. Making wilk carton rafts to imagine ourselves as pirates. Living country meant you knew who to compliment cause their dad was drinking again and a kind word made the difference between despair and making it another day. Living country. You knew whos crops had failed or had lost their job….so you left a bag of groceries on the front stoop. Undestanding the might and glory of nature. Laughter. Sunshine. Thundering downpoors. Sweet gras and honeysuckle. Living country provided continuity and a knowledge that when you think you are done you then realize what is next. I think that is the lesson that was most important for me. No matter how difficult life has been at times., I learned that you simply keep going and do what is next. My grand parents and great grandparents were farmers.


  2. I think “country” is a mindset that is rooted in rural or small-town living. It can transfer to the city, but it starts outside the city limits. Not limited regionally, country is a love of family, appreciation of the Earth and its bounty, mistrust of popular trends, respect for power and speed, and a conservative resistance to change of all types. Country means being resourceful and living in recognition that money isn’t an endless resource and consumption should be meaningful not frivolous. Country folks often have the ability to laugh at themselves and separate fact from fiction in the stories they hear. Like Justice Potter Stewart said about obscenity, country is something you know when you see it.


    • I agree with all this, 100%! I am currently working on my dissertation entitled Southern Voices, Y’all: A Narrative Inquiry of First Generation, Working Class Southern Rural Students.

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