WELCOME: The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies



U.S. Rural Cultural Work


“Rural” & “Culture”

Private Principal Investigator

Vision, Mission, Values, & Goals

The Reference Collection

The Center’s Purpose

Rural communities in the United States face enormous challenges and, currently, also exert considerable influence on the rest of the country and the rest of the world. Research communities interested in addressing rural cultural challenges have focused their efforts internationally, leaving U.S. rural communities without the cultural knowledge conventionally provided by research institutions. Much is written about the economics of U.S. rural places, but a focus on cultural norms and how humans grow in them is absent.

At The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies, we focus on understanding norms in the variety of rural cultures embodied by 60 million people in the United States. We seek to understand what’s normal in rural America. We work quietly — immersed in the field — to first understand each rural culture. Our research is designed to remain quiet, in the field, and focused on describing actual conditions. Our creative, and educational projects — which grow out of our field research findings — show how power moves and how human well-being supports the agency necessary for democratic norms, how change is possible, and how each person can help create healthy social soil.

We also avoid one-factor analysis (race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, species); our attention is drawn to relations, which always already connect those factors. Indeed, those crucial factors are functions of power relations. Our research guides production of accessible cultural knowledge, creative products, and change tools to support rural populations in self-understanding and self-directed healthy change, while facilitating understanding between rural and non-rural populations. Ultimately, our research drives creation of simple, direct, and functional sense-making tools, which all concerned U.S. citizens urgently need to navigate, challenge, and change everyday authoritarian power relations.

The Center’s work to embody, model, and encourage democratic (power-sharing) relations in U.S. rural communities and beyond has long-term potential to change cultures at the relational level. There is currently no other academic, business, religious, political, or nonprofit research program or cultural work effort of this kind underway in the United States.

U.S. Rural Cultural Work

Cultures are made up of practices — what humans normally do and say that reflect how they think and what they value and believe. Cultural work practices focused in everyday authoritarian contexts include questioning and challenging imbalanced power relations to loosen the social soil around power-stealing and hoarding sites. Cultural work practices also amend the social soil with fresh, creative nutrients — power-sharing ideas, stories, and practices — while hand-tilling that soil to encourage growth and wide-spread diffusion of democratic practices and norms. Cultural work practices focus on those most vulnerable to power-stealing in order to create conditions within which they can reclaim their power and drive their forward momentum.

At the Center, cultural work grows from our research, is pre-political, and starts on the ground of rural cultures. It’s not about votes or voting. It’s not about political organizing or political parties; not about candidates or issues. Our work — concentrated in U.S. rural cultures — is about fear reduction: fear of the unknown, fear of punishment, fear of invisibility, fear of authority. Our cultural work is about building the enabling conditions necessary to support the health of our democracy. Our cultural work creates, embodies, models, and shares communicative practices that nurture a sense of safety, trust, and human well-being. Our cultural work enables vulnerability and sparks creativity that can only happen in democratic cultures. Our cultural work makes possible the magic that democracies grow.

From Boal to hooks to Giroux, those dedicated to cultural work use their lives as creative instruments of healthy social change. Cultural workers see possibilities, even if they’re mired in brutal actuality. We know we can’t change people, so we focus on changing the cultural conditions in which people live and grow. At the Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies, researchers, artists, and educators immersed in U.S. rural cultures work to intervene and reshape unhealthy communicative patterns that undermine democratic norms and practices, while creatively embodying and encouraging power-sharing in its many forms.

“Rural” & “Culture”

U.S. rural cultures are made up of patterns of typical human practices, which include “knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, [and] custom…” (Kroeber and Kluckhohn). A rural culture is a living whole, and its norms are not abstract categories; norms are what humans do that add up to cultures. The Center’s research and creative focus on U.S. rural cultures includes understanding and showing the ways diverse humans in rural areas typically think, believe, talk, and act to create each rural culture.

For instance, in a democratic culture like ours in the United States, sharing power via systems and processes is a taken-for-granted cultural norm. Democratic practices — how humans do power-sharing — occurs between humans, in our relations with one another. Democracy is not in systems or processes. The heart of any democratic culture is the human commitment to share power via systems and processes. Observing and documenting how power-sharing happens between humans in rural cultures makes it possible to understand how those rural norms influence nation-wide democratic norms. Showing — through creative projects — how those norms function helps create the conditions for the possibility of fresh relational norms that support our fundamentally democratic culture.

All definitions of “rural” used in U.S. rural literature are created by the Federal government and function to assess need and divide and distribute economic resources to those populations. The over-focus on top-down economic analysis in most literature swamps our ability to understand the everyday normal lives and practices of rural Americans, and recognize the locked down power at the bottom that can be unlocked.

Economics is only one factor in creating a meaningful, healthy life. The Center’s work seeks to understand how humans living and growing on 97% of the land mass outside urban and suburban settings relate with one another to create each rural culture. Those human relations are the social soil in which all other activity — political, economic, or mediated — is planted and grown. At the Center, we recognize that healthy human relations support healthy democracies, economies, and media.