Rural Sociology: Definition, Origin, Development, Scope, Importance

The regions across the world are divided as either urban or rural. Rural sociology is a field of study, exclusively studies rural life along with its various aspects and problems. The origin of rural sociology is fairly recent, despite the rural community being one of the oldest forms of societies. It has been developed by various sociologists and differently based on the region of study. Its scope includes rural community, structure, processes, demographics amongst many others. Although the number of regions being called rural has decreased significantly in western countries, its relevance is still important to the majority of the world. Using various methods of study, this subject aims to gain a clear understanding of rural society and aid its development in the ever-changing world.  

What is Rural Sociology

Introduction: Although the world has developed rapidly through industrial and technological advancements, there still exists a division of regions as urban and rural-based on the type of occupation and population. Although the term is not widely applied in westernized countries today, it certainly was relevant during the 19th and 20th centuries and is still relevant in the third world countries in the present. The majority of societal studies has shifted towards the growing urban areas and it generalizes the lives of people and the social structure or network that they reside in. The structure of society, functions, relations and political order in rural areas are unique. There is therefore a contrast in researching urban and rural societies. Even, Weber argues that rural areas are distinctive and therefore that they warrant sociological attention: Of all communities, the social constitution of rural districts are the most individual and the most closely connected with particular historical developments (Weber, 1970). To study the rural society as a distinct and unique part of the web of societies in human civilizations, especially for the study of rural phenomena and a comprehensive understanding of several characteristics of rural life, there developed a sub-field in the discipline of sociology, called the rural sociology.

Rural Sociology: Definition and characteristics

There are a few popular definitions of rural sociology as given by Sanderson, Bertrand, T.L. Smith which can be grouped as one definition given by F.S. Chapin, “The sociology of rural life is a study of the rural population, rural social organization, and the rural social processes operative in rural society.”(Satapathy, NA) This definition is general, but sociologist A. R. Desai provides a definition that describes rural sociology as a scientific subject, although this argument is debated upon- “the science of the laws governing the specific Indian rural and social organisation has still to be created. Such a science is, however, the basic premise for the renovation of the Indian rural society, as indispensable for the renovation of the Indian society as a whole” (Desai, 1959). Although it is specific to the Indian rural society, it applies to all places. Drawing from these definitions we can characterize rural sociology portrays rural society and defines the conventions and principles that shape the rural community. It gives a vivid image of the rural inhabitants and the dissimilarities between them and the urbanites. Rural sociology analyses rural society, rural social network and structures. As this type of society depends mostly on agriculture and its derivatives, the farming community forms an important part of rural sociological studies. Rural sociology aids in the comprehension of rural societies’ challenges in terms of social, political, and economic spheres as well as the approaches for overcoming the same. As a result, it has a complex nature, with a systematic and comparative study technique that focuses on local analyses. Although the beginning of human civilizations is rooted in agriculture-based rural communities, the field of rural sociology is relatively modern.

Origin and development

The field of rural sociology was born because of the failure of other socially inclined subjects to meet the requirements necessary to study rural life under its varied environment and persisting problems. According to Charles Hoffer, “Like all sciences, Rural Sociology developed in response to a need. It is an elementary fact in the realm of scientific thought that a new science comes into existence whenever phenomena confronting the human mind are not, or cannot be understood satisfactorily by the existing disciplines or sciences” (as cited in Satapathy, NA).

The need was to understand the problems of the rural population, migrating to urban settlements thriving through industrialization and scientific advancements. The issue of village life isn’t unique to modern countries, nor is it limited to the twentieth century. Greece has had an issue with people moving from the rural to the towns. Rome attempted to control the migration from rural areas and prevent the masses from swarming into the cities (Vogt, 1917). But only a few efforts were made to condense the principles of rural communal living to a systematic scientific form. The earliest known reference of the distinction of rural society as a separate area of study can be traced to Ferdinand Tönnies’ Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887). The German sociologist characterized the rural farming societies as Gemeinschaft and in this, existing social standards are used to establish and manage interpersonal relations. Wesenwille (natural will)—that is, natural and instinctively emerging feelings and displays of sentiment—determines people’s uncomplicated and straightforward relations. Other sociologists and thinkers have remotely referred the rural society in their works.

The emergence of rural sociology as a scientific and systematic study was during the late 19th century in the United States of America. Rural communities in America had various socio-economic challenges between 1890 and 1920, which drew the attention of the intellectuals, resulting in the establishment of rural society studies as an academic speciality. The creation of the country life commission and its reportage to the American Sociological Society led popular sociologists such as James Michel Williams, Warren H. Wilson and Newell L. Sims to contribute to the field exclusively. Eventually, the study of rural life gained prominence in academics and led to the formation of Rural Sociological Society as a separate department in 1935 and their release of the journal– Rural Sociology (Smith, 2011). The second world war and the decolonization movement that followed paved the way for sociologists to study the impact on rural areas and their adaptation to new policies and technological introductions. The developing third world countries to be the focus of rural sociology because the sub-discipline of agricultural sociology was replacing rural sociology in the western world. The evolving discipline placed a strong emphasis on comprehending and evaluating the social model of the agricultural economy as well as the dynamics of land-based relationships.

Scope of rural sociology

First, rural community. A rural community consists of the social interaction of the people and their institutions in the local area in which they live. Rural Sociology is concerned with the study of the characteristics, special features and ecology of the village community. (Sanderson, 1932)

Second, rural social institutions which include political, economic, religious, among others and their significance is an important part of the sociological study of rural areas.

Third, the rural social structure. The different components of rural social structure, such as local organization, household, clan, and so on, are studied in rural sociology. It examines how the rural social structure has been influenced by social controls.

Fourth, rural sociology explores numerous elements of rural culture, including social practices, values, norms, dispositions, motivations, and preferences.

Fifth, the subject examines the social changes brought about in the rural communities as a result of processes like urbanization, industrialization, migration etc.

Sixth, the rural development programmes and their impact on rural living forms a significant part of rural sociology.

Seventh, It studies the demographics of rural areas. It investigates the sources of population increase and its implications for development, as well as migration.

Eighth, It also examines different social processes that occur among individuals or groups in the rural milieu, such as collaboration, accommodation, assimilation, competitiveness, and conflict.

Lastly, urban-rural differences. Rural sociology discusses the various social, political, economic, ideological, and cultural differences and similarities between rural and urban areas.

Importance and significance                                     

As close to two-thirds of the world population resides in a rural setting, rural sociology becomes important to understand the backbone of the world. The agrarian socio-economic has witnessed major transformations due to the prolific impact of the technology and development programmes and as this society plays a major role in the development and economy of developing and developed nations alike, studying their lifestyle and structures is significant. Rural advancement, rebuilding, and improvement are only achievable when people get a clear understanding of rural life and issues. Rural sociology entails a study of rural behaviour and a thorough insight into rural residents and their systems. Above all this, rural communities are the foundations of human civilizations which later became urbanized and to understand modern societies, studying basic societies is crucial.


Rural sociology has evolved over the years and provided a reflection of rural societies across the globe. However, the subject and their topic of studies although can be broadly classified, it differs regionally. Because rural lifestyle is a web of social connections, observer’s bias and perspective might infiltrate into the research. Rural society is made up of networks of relationships ties, that are each influenced by a variety of conditions. As a result, exposing all of the elements involved in this area of rural society studies becomes challenging. There is a paucity of universality since rural communities differ in terms of their traditions, practices, and circumstances, and they eventually vary in every facet of life. Despite its challenges and shortcomings, rural sociology has been of immense importance to the development of societies and cultures by understanding them in all their uniqueness.


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2016, February 26). Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Desai, A. R. (1956). Rural Sociology: Its Need in India. Sociological Bulletin, 5(1), 9–28.

Hillyard, S. (2007). The sociology of rural life. Berg.

Sanderson, D. (1932). The Rural Community: The Natural History of a Sociological Group, Volume 3. Ginn.

Satapathy, S. (NA). Rural Sociology: Its Emergence, Importance, Nature and Scope. In Rural Sociology.

Smith, S. (2011). The Institutional and Intellectual Origins of Rural Sociology. University of Chicago.

Vogt, P.L. (1917). Introduction to rural sociology. D Appleton and company.

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Ruthu is a student of Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, pursuing interdisciplinary studies in international relations, political science and sociology. She is passionate about current affairs, public policies, sustainable development, human rights and quality education. She aspires to have a career in research and academia that allow observation of social reality by combining her subjects and passions in writing.