Exit Site

Rural Spaces: Why Spaces and Not Places?

Recently, when chatting with a colleague, I said “rural spaces.” She stopped me and asked why I had used that term, because she had heard other folks who grew up in rural areas use that language. Before then, I hadn’t given a lot of thought as to why I would use the term “rural spaces” to describe many, many different kinds of rural locations; I just knew that I’d always heard and used that term growing up. Or the age-old “out here” when talking about growing up rural. You know? “Well, living out here is different than in the city.”

I’ve been thinking about other words I could’ve used and really it comes down to “areas,” or “places.” Neither of those seem to fit. “Area” sounds too cold and disconnected to use as a regular term to refer to the rural world. The term “places” strikes me as an urban term. You go places. You meet places. “Places” suggests a central gathering point or an easily identifiable location, landmark, or establishment. “Rural places” sounds really specific, as if there is a heart, a center, a dot on the map. Rural communities have many hearts, many centers, and some dots on maps.

So, when I talk about where I grew up, the populations I work with, and the places I travel for personal and professional reasons, I talk about rural spaces. For me, “spaces” tells a story of cooperation and connection woven into a specific geography, language, lifestyle, or set of traditions. The term “spaces” suggests that a rural community isn’t easily distilled down to a single location, idea, or personality. Spaces means that rural life is complex, vast, and dependent on context. Talking about rural life means talking about the many ways or locations in which we live our daily lives. Telling the tale of rural spaces is telling the tale of rural life.

How about you? How do you describe rural life, community, and location when talking with others?