In the early years of my career I helped to develop rural geography into a widely recognised and mainstream subdiscipline. No doubt founding (with my wife Viv) a flourishing academic journal - Journal of Rural Studies - aided this achievement. Later, I helped to promote a critical appreciation of the role of voluntary-sector organisations in responding to the needs of people suffering from the mean times of austerity. In many ways, however, I am equally pleased by the impact of our co-edited textbook Introducing Human Geographies which continues to encourage many new geography students around the world to develop their own critical scholarship.
Growing up in North London I had little insight into rural matters. It was the inspirational teaching of Brian Woodruffe at Southampton that sparked my interest and encouraged my subsequent PhD programme at Wye College London, analysing the role of key settlements in rural areas. My first lectureship in Lampeter not only gave me first-hand experience of rural living, but also immersed me in a powerful group of young scholars who taught me to think critically. It was there that I developed a sharper focus on aspects of rurality that went beyond agricultural land use and the seemingly bucolic nature of rural life. My work evolved to contest the political myths about there being no poverty or homelessness in the countryside, and to discover more about the more-than-human nature of rurality.
The initial importance of rural geography counterbalanced what had become an apparent bias towards the urban within geography. However, as rural geography developed as a subdiscipline, researchers quickly identified that rurality is as important for its social and cultural constructions as it is as a category of geographical place. There a multiplicity of social and cultural spaces overlapping in any single rural area, and these constructs of rurality are becoming increasingly relevant within wider urban-rural relations - not least through processes of counterurbanisation, gentrification, commodification and lifestyle change. Rural places and lifestyles remain important, but it is these rural contributions to wider urban-rural relations that give enhanced significance to rural geographies.
It feels important to me that rural geography engages even more seriously with the broader intellectual process of decolonisation, especially by shifting its focus from Anglo-American heartlands of knowledge to a broader grasp of ruralities in different parts of the world. A greater emphasis on indigenous rural geographies seems overdue. I am enjoying the increased attention in the subdiscipline to more-than-human ruralities, and I expect these studies to bring significant advances to the conceptualisation of the geographies of rurality and the ruralities of geography. In the short-term, there needs to be continued vigilance in the study of how continued austerity and cost-of-living crises are affecting individuals and households in the out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind spaces of rurality.
My advice over the years to anyone seeking a career in geography is to 'scratch where you itch'! Many geography students have life experience in rural locations, and if rural issues are what fascinate you then nowadays there are no intellectual barriers to a successful career in rural geography. I love geography as a subject because it gives you a flexible opportunity both to follow your passion, and increasingly though participatory geographies to 'walk the talk'. Rural geography is now a bona fide element of the subject. It is conceptually aware and critically attuned, so if that’s where you itch, then go scratch!
Paul Breeze takes us to the Nefud Sand Sea where his team looks for prehistoric archaeology and ancient water deposits, finding early evidence of humans journeying out of Africa – the oldest footprints in Arabia.
10 March 2022
The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is aware that many academic geographers, as UCU members in universities that participate in USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme), are taking strike action over proposed changes to their pension scheme.
5 March 2018
Improving understanding of UK internal migration informs policy responses to local demographic change.
Read our resource on careers in international development based on advice from geographers working in the sector.
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