The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University & Research studies the dynamics of rural and regional development processes in Europe. Specific attention is paid to the different levels at which transformation processes occur and are shaped, as well as to the different actors and institutions involved. The Rural Sociology Group studies and analyses these transformation processes from an interpretative-explanatory sociological perspective, combining qualitative and quantitative research methods. A common denominator is the focus on diversity, agency, micro-macro linkages and processes of institutionalisation. Characteristic is the comparative and empirically driven research approach. An important feature of its research is the multidisciplinary approach, based on a well-established co-operation between sociologists, economists, spatial planners, agronomists, animal scientists and technicians. Equally relevant is the close collaboration with (organisations of) stakeholders.
PhD research and training is mainly carried out in programs endorsed by the Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS).
Rural Sociology also provides an important input into the BSc and MSc programmes on International Development Studies and on Health and Society as well as the MSc programme on Organic Agriculture and the MSc Food Technology specialisation on Gastronomy.
The group also contributes to the International Master in Rural Development (IMRD).
The Rural Sociology Group was established in 1946. During the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s education and research focused on the modernization of agriculture and rural society, and the main themes were the diffusion of innovations and the social-cultural predispositions of farmers and rural people to accept change. Rural Sociology produced expert knowledge which increasingly came to be considered as important as that produced by the technical agricultural sciences.
In the late 1970s it became clear that a reorientation of the discipline was needed since a new set of issues had emerged within the agricultural development agenda, especially: the growth of agribusiness, the subsequent loss of farmers' autonomy and the emergence of the question of the survival of family farming, the role of women in agriculture and rural development, and the environmental problem. These were soon followed by theoretical developments and empirical research relating to heterogeneity, farming styles, endogenous development and regional problems.