Chapter 5: Community Institutions in Rural Society

In Chapter 5, “Community Institutions in Rural Society,” we examine the associational life in rural communities by discussing the main political and civic institutions providing access to a variety of resources and public goods, representing local interests, enhancing and reproducing local identity, and creating opportunity in the civic sphere. This can be observed through the local government, education, and health care systems. Through these institutions, communities plan for the future, manage civic life, educate and socialize youth, and protect public health and safety. Formal institutions, such as these, can help to produce community identity and provide opportunities for civic interaction and participation. These institutions also help delineate boundaries. This chapter demonstrates that in the midst of macro-level forces and structural transformations that may undermine the autonomy of local places, local institutions are still a fundamentally important aspect of rural community. This chapter concludes by illuminating that cooperative agreements and regional approaches to development are the wave of the future.

Author Podcast
Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

1. What is meant by “community capacity”? What are the characteristics of communities with high community capacity? What factors might undermine or erode community capacity? What strategies might rural communities use to build community capacity?

2. What is the difference between “government” and “governance”? How has the role of both government and governance shifted within rural society?

3. When viewed as community institutions, how and why might schools play particularly important roles for the communities they serve?

4. Identify one of the challenges facing rural schools mentioned in this chapter (or another challenge you have seen) and discuss the implications for a rural community. How might this challenge have further impacts? How can another local institution, such as local government, work to eliminate this barrier?

5. Do you think rural people have adequate access to health care? If not, how would you improve it?

6. Rural schools tend to outperform their urban counterparts in the academic preparation of students. At the same time, rural students have lower college attendance rates. What are the factors that might explain both phenomena?

7. This chapter surfaces the idea of community boundaries. How might boundaries be helpful in rural communities? How might they be harmful? What would be an example of each?

8. This chapter identified three institutions found within rural spaces. What might be other influential institutions that were not mentioned? Discuss how they might impact rural communities.


1. Exploring Local Politics. What is on the public agenda in local government where you go to school/college? In order to examine this question, split the class into small groups. Ask each group to attend a local government public meeting. Each group will prepare a brief report indicating the main issues being considered by local government. What pros and cons were discussed with respect to this issue? Which members of the local government favor each position? What interests do they represent? If appropriate, the instructor might organize an in-class debate on the issues currently before local government.

2. Schools, Rural Outmigration, & Rural Development. Some observers have argued that rural schools may be participating in rural community decline if they educate young people who leave the community and never return. Rural education scholar Michael Corbett, for example, wrote an entire book about this dynamic entitled Learning to Leave (2007)*. What responsibilities should rural schools have for supporting the development and continued well-being of the communities they serve? Should educators and administrators be responsible for local community development outcomes, especially when held accountable by federal and state mandates for demonstrating student achievement? We often talk about the use of high-stakes testing to hold schools accountable for student achievement and learning. What should the accountability of rural schools be to the communities they serve? Draft a 2-page position brief that takes a particular position on these questions that would be suitable for presentation to your State’s Education Department.

* Corbett, M. 2007. Learning to Leave: The Irony of Schooling in a Coastal Community. Fernwood, Black Point, NS.