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



Rural America Cultural Work


Rural American Cultures (RAC)

Private Principal Investigator

Vision, Mission, Values, & Goals

The Reference Collection

The Center’s Purpose

Rural American Cultures (RAC) 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 challenges have focused their efforts internationally, leaving RAC 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 American Cultures embodied by 60 million people. We seek to understand what’s normal in rural America. We work quietly — immersed in the field — to first understand each RAC. 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 in human relations, how power is shared or stolen, and how everyone 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 RAC in self-understanding and self-directed healthy change, while facilitating understanding between rural and non-rural cultures. Ultimately, our sophisticated 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 RAC 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.

Cultural Work in Rural (and Urban) America

Cultures–rural or urban–are made up of practices : what humans normally do and say that shows 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 packed down 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 that can develop into norms. Cultural work practices focus on those most vulnerable to power-stealing in order to create conditions within which everyone is empowered to 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 relational 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 relational patterns that undermine democratic norms and practices, while creatively embodying and encouraging power-sharing in its many forms.

Rural American Cultures (RAC)

Rural American Cultures (RAC) are made up of patterns of typical human practices, which include “knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, [and] custom…” (Kroeber and Kluckhohn). A RAC 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 RAC includes understanding and showing the diverse practices that humans in rural areas engage.

For instance, in a democratic culture like ours in the United States, sharing power via systems and processes is (or was) a cultural norm. Democratic practices — how humans do power-sharing with those processes and systems — occurs between humans, in our relations with one another. In other words, democracy is not in systems or processes. The heart of any democratic culture is the human commitment to share power via systems and processes and in everyday practices. Observing and documenting how power-sharing happens between humans in RAC 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 a fundamentally democratic culture.

Definitions of “rural” used in U.S. rural scholarship are created by the Federal government and function to assess need and divide and distribute economic resources to those populations. Economics is only one factor in creating a meaningful, healthy life, however. The over-focus on top-down economic analysis has swamped our ability to understand the everyday normal lives and practices of rural Americans. The Center seeks to illuminate those norms, understand their impacts on humans, and include in data collection those humans at bottom and on the margins.