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Institute of Advanced Study

IAS Staff

Publication details for Dr Sam Hillyard

Hillyard, S. (2015). Rural putsch: power, class, social relations and change in the English rural village. Sociological Research Online 20(1): 5.

Author(s) from Durham


The paper uses ethnography to discuss a political putsch – a move from Old Guard to newcomer dominance – in an English rural village. Applying the conceptual ideas of Goffman on symbols of class status and Thrift (2012) on space and an expressive infrastructure, it responds to Shucksmith's (2012) call for research into the micro workings and consequences of class power in rural contexts. The analysis stresses the relevance of 'sticky' space (the residue of past social relations shaping the present, the dwindling amenities and a contemporary absence of pavements) and a contemporary blurring of rural and the urban identities (Norfolk/ London). Moreover, both Goffman's restrictive devices and class symbols (who garners support and who does not) and the temporal dimension of an expressive infrastructure (informing individual dispositions and orientations – class affect) now construct rural spaces. The paper therefore retains a flavour of sociology's obstinate interest in geographic milieu, but the stage is now one of a global countryside both influencing and influenced by local politics and elites.
A global recession and the rural penalty, whereby rural residents' experience is more acute, has meant that not all spaces or agents are equal and some are therefore better placed to adapt, accommodate or resist change (Shucksmith 2012). In a climate of various rural crises (fracking in the 'desolate' North of England and the contentious culling of badgers), this paper uses ethnography to study the operation of rural micro-politics and by doing so highlight the value of an ethnographic approach for sociology for understanding the local in the global.