| Discourses on rural : A review (1996) |
Conventional constructs of ‘rural’ apart, changes taking place in the rural areas are widely studied in all the social science disciplines including development studies. Starting from the process of modernisation to underdevelopment-development paradox in the rural areas, various changes have been argued and counter-argued. Some of these changes are:
1) the declining importance of agriculture as a means of rural employment and the consequent increase in non-farm population;
2) the increasing peripheral rural population;
3) the migration from and into rural areas, particularly in proximity to non-agricultural work places namely, industrial, commercial and services, made possible by commuting;
4) the changing consumption basket and life-style in the rural areas; and
5) the growing attraction of rural areas for urban centres, particularly those which are nearer to urban centres, as a resource for recreational and residential purposes.
These changes, sometimes, are referred to as urbanisation. Many other changes are observed with reference to particular land-use pattern, primarily agriculture1; some of them are listed below:
1) Capital intensive specialised farming, mechanisation of farm operations and the intensification of the use of external inputs;
2) The separation of livestock and crop production;
3) Income from agriculture as no more the sole criteria why large families keep their farms;
4) The growing inter-regional and household level differences in the land-use patterns such as the variation between a large farmer and small farmer, mixed cropping in rainfed agriculture and mono-cropping in canal irrigated areas, practice of livestock-agriculture mix in rainfed areas and also in the middle-peasant groups;
5) The emergence of new forms of commodity production (small-scale manufacturing, artisanal products, and services) in the more diversified rural regions; and
6) The growing instrumental interdependencies between the processes of globalisation (multinational agro-industries) and localisation.
We can go on listing even wider intra/inter household interactions across the space such as the links between farm families and the urban families with a rural origin and maintaining the contacts and exchanges2. The list above suffices for the need to re-look at the conceptualisation of ‘rural’ to become not only evident but inevitable.
Many of these patterns and tendencies often characterised as modernisation or capitalist growth - change in production, consumption patterns, market economic relations, re-oriented capital and credit flows - point towards "bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece a whole new set of moulding conditions for rural space and rural people ... gradually redefining rural society..." (Marsden & Flynn, 1993:201). And these changes have taken place and continue to expand further at various levels. As these changes have affected different areas with varying intensity and time, rural areas demonstrate considerable intra-regional, national and international variations (Cloke, 1985:5). Thus, "the rural environment poses new conceptual and methodological questions, and presents unique problems for investigations" (Pacione, 1984:1). For example, what is the basis for continuing with clubbing together a Kerala village near Kottayam and the Kalahandi village of Orissa, as rural?
So, we move towards the question: how is the ‘rural’ conceptualised? The question becomes important for the simple reason: if ‘rural’ has changed from say early 20th century, what is out there? Should we still be calling it ‘rural’? The question demands a retrospective view on the way we have been conceptualising rural, and we route this retrospective through an examination of the conventional constructs of ‘rural’.