Rural Sociology is now the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology

We’ve changed our name. The old UW Department of Rural Sociology is now the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology.

What’s in a name? Quite a bit it turns out. A couple of years back, the faculty in the UW Department of Rural Sociology began a discussion about what we call ourselves. Was the term “rural” still meaningful? Did “rural sociology” adequately reflect the content of our research and our teaching? We held a retreat, we talked in the halls, we debated the meaning of the rural in a departmental seminar, and we continued our intellectually lively and institutionally consequential discussion over wine late one fall Friday afternoon.

The roots of rural sociology as a discipline can be found in early twentieth century efforts of the federal government to understand and improve the quality of rural life. The UW hired its first rural sociologist in 1911. In that year, Charles Galpin took up an appointment in Agricultural Economics. Our department was created in 1930 and so we’ve been a presence in CALS and on the UW campus for nearly eighty years.

Still, our collective sense in faculty discussion was that as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the term “rural” is confusing to many students, scholars, and citizens. Rather than lead undergraduates to seek out our rich array of course offerings in areas from “Food, Culture, and Society” to “International Development, Environment, and Sustainability”, too many undergraduate have tended to overlook us. Indeed, when students do find their way into our department, they often express frustration that they didn’t come across the department sooner and blame our name for missing us.

Our university colleagues too have indicated a lack of understanding of the work we do. When we talk about community supported agriculture, the politics of water, or rural industry, they get a sense of the breadth of our work, but “rural” doesn’t seem to them to encompass what we actually do. Finally, many citizens of the state who might find our expertise helpful would not likely find us as long as we held on to the label of “rural” sociology.

Given all of this, we decided to pursue university approval to change our name to the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. In the spring, the University Academic Planning Council gave us the go ahead to change our name, and we are moving methodically to complete all of the tasks, large and small, required to fully establish our new departmental identity.

We think our new name is fully in keeping with the changes underway in the university broadly and CALS more specifically. We are set to help confront the array of tremendous societal challenges we face in areas of food, energy and sustainability to name and few. We relish the opportunity to teach a larger number and wider array of students, and we look forward to connecting with many of you who have overlooked us and reconnecting with our old friends and colleagues.

Daniel Lee Kleinman, Professor and Chair
Department of Community and Environmental Sociology