Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Rurality" as a proper word, or not

I saw the word “rurality” used today at the Museum of Civilization in Québec, and I delighted in it as only a self-proclaimed “ruralist” could. It was used in an exhibit about the province of Québec, which included several features about different aspects of the province including the St. Lawrence River; Montréal; villages (referred to specifically in relation to the single Catholic Church in each and agriculture); and the very remote north, home to several first nations. The latter two used the term “rurality,” in particular to question whether and in what form rurality will survive in the province. The exhibit reported that 20% of Québecois live in rural areas, a figure very similar to the entire U.S. population living in rural places.

I don’t recall ever seeing the word “rurality” used in the U.S. scholarly literature (but await readers to correct me), be it in rural sociology or rural economics – let alone legal ruralism, of which I am pretty much the only exponent. I do occasionally see the word used in the British and other literature about, well, the concept of rurality. It really is the best word. In a way, Barbara Ching and Gerald Creed at least refer to it in the introduction to their edited volume, Knowing Your Place, where they discuss the literal and metaphorical aspects of rural places.

In the U.S., we seem to use “the rural,” or refer to rural dwellers or rural residents. But the latter terms have different connotations. For one thing, just because you dwell or reside in a rural place does not make you “rural” – at least not in my humble opinion. Those terms don’t evoke the same idea or concept as “rurality.” Neither does “rural places.” “The rural” works, but it seems unduly cumbersome, and the article “the” seems a bit high-falutin’ to be associated with places otherwise thought of as, well, “base” and grounded in the land.

Being in that museum in Québec today, I felt affirmed in my confident (and repeated) use of “rurality” in my most recent publication, which theorizes the intersection of gender and rurality. Nevertheless, as I write this, the spell check in Word is grumping at me, telling me “rurality” isn’t a word at all, or I'm spelling it wrong. But what would Microsoft know about rurality?

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