Friday, January 20, 2012

Call for Papers: Rural Sociological Society's 75th Annual Meeting

I plan to attend the Annual Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) for the fifth time this year--and to participate in the organization's celebration of its 75th anniversary. The meeting will be July 26-29 in Chicago, right back at the Palmer House Hotel where the inaugural meeting was held in 1937. Ag law folks may know that 2012 just happens also to be the 150th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Participating in RSS meetings has proved to be an important source of ideas, inspiration and contacts in relation to my scholarship about the intersection of law with rural livelihoods. In fact, I often declare RSS my "favorite meeting of the year" because everyone there cares about rural people and places. Taking rural livelihoods seriously is the shared foundation. As readers of the Ag Law Blog will appreciate, such is hardly the case at most law prof conferences. Rather, attending law prof meetings (even warm and fuzzy ones like Law and Society's Annual Meeting) often reinforces the sense that I am writing my way into the very obscurity associated with rural people and places. "Rural people, you say ... how interesting, even exotic, but that has nothing to do with me and my scholarship." By extension, the message seems to be that rural people and places have nothing to do with anything that matters. And so the legal academy steams forward, oblivious to its metro-centrism.
With that endorsement of RSS, I am hoping to attract some ag law scholars to this year's RSS meeting. I'm getting lonely being the only lawyer at RSS, but that's not the only reason you should attend. Like me, I suspect ag law folks have a lot to learn from rural sociologists. In particular, ag law profs may find of special interest sessions organized by the Sociology of Food and Agriculture Research Interest Group. I have presented my work at RSS every year I have attended, and I have found that it fits nicely on the panels of mostly rural sociologists. Plus, the meeting has become more cross-disciplinary in recent years, with scholars from geography, anthropology, and various branches of the humanities also participating.
My final endorsement is based on my attendance of last year's "pre-conference" of the RSS annual meeting in Boise. I participated in one of many field trips on offer, traveling with other scholars to Idaho's
Magic Valley to visit a dairy farm. (Photos top and left of field trip, Jerome, Idaho. Yes, those are rural sociologists in a milking parlor. Read a post about the field trip here). Did you know that Idaho is now the third largest milk-producing state in the nation? Field trip participants considered a number of aspects of the growth of the dairy industry in the Magic Valley: environmental, labor, immigration. Ag law scholars would have felt right at home.
Here's the call for the 75th meeting, with a February 15, 2012 deadline for abstracts and proposals:
Increasing inequality of wealth and income in the United States is a symptom of a deeper problem of increasingly concentrated power wielded by distant actors with no sense of commitment to place. Corporate consolidation and the federal government's commitment to the fetish of free trade have created an economic system disembedded from social life as lived by most citizens. The twin processes of consolidation and separation threaten the social contract upon which our society is based. This contemporary legitimacy crisis has spawned a curious ideological consensus between Tea Party advocates and Progressive who share a common fear of the big and distant.
Inequalities exist within and between communities and regions, and of course between nations. Everywhere we simultaneously see conspicuous displays of wealth and landscapes of despair. Over the past half century and more, rural sociologists have chronicled the steady decline experienced by many parts of rural America due to decisions made far away in corporate boardrooms and legislative bodies. Parallel changes have affected urban industrial centers through government acquiescence to or even encouragement of corporate disinvestment.
Reform of this economic system is made difficult by the mutual dependence that big corporations and big government have upon each other.
Resistance to distant forces is increasingly visible as each neighborhood fights a big box development, as each community invests in a local food system, and each time a group of citizens bands together to fight threats to environmental and public health which governments are happy to permit as the price of economic growth. Higher energy prices and technological developments are likely to create new opportunities to build local economies around local needs and resources.
The movement towards localism is inspired by the idea that the economy is something we participate in, not something that is done to us.
In this conference, we encourage participants to explore the potential that localism has to create vibrant economies that offer not only a market alternative but a values-alternative to our contemporary economic system.
Go here to submit your abstract.
If you plan to attend RSS in Chicago, please write me offline and let me know. I am hoping to organize a round table of legal scholars at this year's meeting (assuming we can get a critical mass to the meeting) to have a discussion about what a "law and rural society" thread of scholarship might look like. After all, Law and Society is a flourishing sub-discipline. By carving out a scholarly space for legal scholars interested in food, agriculture and the rural, we are likely to reveal Law and Society's metronormativity--just like the establishment of the Rural Sociological Society's founding in 1937 highlighted the implicit metro bias of the American Sociological Association.
Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.

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