CIRS Blog about Rural California

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In many people's experience, California consists of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and the highways that connect them. In reality these urban centers make up only a fraction of the whole; according to the 2010 Census, geographically the state of California is more than 94 percent rural. Surprise Valley, Lost Hills, Raisin City, Mecca—these are the communities that make up "the rest" of California.


(Curtis Silk Farms, Gathering Mulberry Leaves, Curtis Silk Farms, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1907 Courtesy of the California Historical Society)

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California’s San Joaquin Valley is a place of contradictions. It has some of the most productive and wealth-generating agricultural lands on the planet, but many of the people who live in this region live in poverty, confront environmental contamination, and face serious health risks. Despite efforts to alleviate these problems, the region’s poor air and water quality, concentrated poverty, and uneven access to educational and other opportunities continue to afflict the Valley. Additionally, sustainability of the Valley’s economy is increasingly dependent on the health and well-being of the all of the region’s residents across its diverse rural and urban communities.

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Jonathan London and Ted Bradshaw


This essay is based on research being conducted for a book by Jonathan London, Ted Bradshaw and Ed Blakely. Ted Bradshaw passed away before this article was written but the concepts and structure were developed in conversation with Jonathan London. In honor of these intellectual influences, this article is credited as a co-authored piece.



For those who care about rural places, whether scholars or practitioners (or, in the case of these authors, both) the inadequacy of analytical frameworks for understanding and therefore intervening in rural change is troubling. Alternately framed as an immaterial anachronism in an increasingly dominant metroscape; a victim of over-determined and extractive structures of modernity, capitalism, and globalization; a romanticized lost agrarian world, or an uncritical site of local progress, the dominant rural discourses provide little basis for satisfying intellectual or political projects.

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