Exploring the Meaning of Rural Through Cognitive Maps
Rural often is viewed as a setting for study rather than an object of study. Often a priori definitions of rural are used; these definitions may bear little resemblance to residents' understanding of the concept. A cognitive mapping experiment to explore the meaning of rural is undertaken in this paper. Results indicate that urban residents could readily identify rural areas on a blank map of Pennsylvania. Their responses to the question varied, however, with some respondents indicating urban areas or writing images on the map. A discussion of these thought processes and implications from these varying responses are presented. Then, the cognitive maps are compared to three commonly accepted definitions of rural. Population density was found to best approximate the areas that urban residents perceived as rural. The paper concludes by discussing policy implications of the findings.