The small town in rural areas as an underresearched type of settlement : editors introduction to the special issue
The idea of an urban-rural continuum – rather than a dichotomous understanding of city versus countryside – is widely accepted and has a long tradition in both rural and urban studies (for an early account of the then “folk-urban continuum”: Miner, 1952). Yet, this consensus is in sharp contrast with the scientific landscape where a strong urban-rural dichotomy prevails. While urban studies predominantly deal with cities and metropolises, rural geography and sociology tend to focus on villages in their settlement studies. Therefore, while the poles of the settlement structure have been fairly well explored, smaller towns are neglected structurally by both disciplines (Vaishar and Zapletalová, 2009; Steinführer, 2016). In comparison with the bulk of knowledge about cities and ruralities, respectively, there is fairly little systematic research about urban life in small(er) towns or, as Bell and Jayne (2009, p. 690) called it, about “small urbanity”. In handbooks of urban studies, for example, urbanity beyond metropolises is not a opic to which specific attention is paid. When taken into consideration by urban scholars at all (rarely), small towns tend to be treated as a specific type of urban settlement to which concepts and theories developed for and in cities are applied (e.g., Hannemann, 2004). Yet, this transfer remains a one-way street, as the existing small-town research does not seem to have contributed to genuine topics of urban research such as socio-spatial differentiation, social exclusion, or urban governance. Within rural studies, there is an ambiguous relationship to small towns: on the one hand, they are considered urban (and, thus, not rural) when, for example, investigating the service functions for their rural “hinterland” (e.g., Powe and Shaw, 2004). On the other hand, however, traditional concepts of rurality are applied and empirically analysed. This holds true, in particular, for the concepts of community and social capital. Strong mutual and personal bonds, considered a specific feature of this type of human settlement, are a major topic of small-town research (e.g., Mattson, 1997, Besser, 2009).