Dr. Michael Carolan received the 2020 Rural Sociology Best Paper Award for his paper “The Rural Problem: Justice in the Countryside.” His paper and $1,000 award were mentioned at the Rural Sociological Society’s (RSS) Virtual Awards Ceremony on August 1, 2021.
His paper was published by Rural Sociology on May 19, 2019. His research was supported in part by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Office for the Vice President for Research, College of Liberal Arts, and Office of Engagement at CSU.
This paper makes the case that justice scholarship cannot adequately account for the rural grievances that helped launch Trump to the presidency. This relative blind spot in the literature offers an opportunity for rural sociologists and rural studies scholars more generally to elevate their relevance in the academy and beyond. From late-2012 to late-2017, I traversed the state of Colorado interviewing and participating alongside non metro residents from its 24 “rural” and 23 “frontier” counties—the latter designation refers to those counties with a population density of six or fewer persons per square mile (the state has 64 counties in total). The argument is informed by 129 face-to-face interviews with residents from across these 47 counties. An additional 144 participant observation-related conversations help further inform the argument. After explaining why rural grievances driving much of today’s populism remains a problem for justice scholarship, I document injustices experienced among those interviewed, categorizing them along the three axes of distribution, recognition, and representation. I then offer tentative suggestions for building recognition and empathy between metro and non metro Coloradans. The paper concludes discussing its limitations and the next steps for future scholarship.