Rurality, islandness and public policy: do definitions matter?

Paula Duffy, Ruth Wilson*, Lorna Philip

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOral Presentation/ Invited Talk


This paper revisits the dilemma of defining ‘rural’ and its implications for rural futures. It reviews conceptualisations of rurality in various national contexts, bringing into question the potential policy implications of shifting understandings of what rural encompasses. With policy perspectives in mind, this paper discusses recent turns in Scottish rural policy in which island communities are treated as being distinct from mainland rural communities on the basis that they face unique challenges. The separate consideration of islands is legislated for in the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, with actions and objectives outlined in the accompanying National Islands Plan (2019).
While recognition that different rural places have different needs is surely to be welcomed, the implications of this new focus on islands is not without concern. Not least, there are other, established ways of differentiating rural areas, for example by accessibility, sparsity and measures of deprivation, that we argue are more effective in identifying communities most in need of policy-led support. Furthermore, the National Islands Plan Survey (Wilson et al., 2021) has highlighted considerable heterogeneity both within and between islands, calling into question their collective treatment.
With a focus on examples from the Scottish context, which may inform wider debates in other national contexts, we examine the implications of the separate consideration of islands for rural policy in Scotland. We suggest alternative approaches to addressing inequalities and community challenges that encompass both mainland and island rural areas. At a time when rural funding is being reconfigured following the UK’s exit from the EU, it is important to maximise the opportunities this brings and to ensure that no rural community, mainland or island, is left behind.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2022
EventEuropean Society for Rural Sociology Congress 2022: Just Rural Transitions: Opportunities and Challenges
: Satellite event @ Scotland "Transitioning Rural Futures”
- Hybrid/ Satellite, Birnam, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Jun 202223 Jun 2022


ConferenceEuropean Society for Rural Sociology Congress 2022: Just Rural Transitions: Opportunities and Challenges
Abbreviated titleESRS2022
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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