The Rural Venue
Debra Lyn Bassett
Southwestern Law School
Alabama Law Review, Vol. 57, 2006
FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 171
U of Alabama Public Law Research Paper No. 832044
We are all familiar with common stereotypes based on gender and race, and we are well aware that such stereotypes have the potential to impact fairness and justice. Recent psychological research has demonstrated that such stereotyping, long believed to be conscious and intentional, exists at an unconscious level. Thus, individuals who believe themselves unbiased may nevertheless possess unconscious biases affecting their interactions, their responses, their reactions, and their perceptions.
A common result of stereotyping - and a feature employed in these recent psychological studies - is the creation of dichotomies, such as good/bad, which substitute for actual evaluation and analysis. Thus, instead of viewing someone as a complex whole, complete with inconsistencies and ambiguities, stereotyping permits instant slotting-people are slotted into little mental boxes and ascribed particular characteristics and qualities without examination, reflection, or analysis. These snap judgments, of course, are often wrong. If left unchecked, these biases can result in erroneous and unfair impressions, and in the legal system, can result in injustice.
In addition to the injustices that can result from discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, there is another, less familiar, form of discrimination based on origin. Ruralism involves discrimination on the basis of factors stemming from living in a rural area. Indeed, ruralism is a pervasive form of discrimination - largely unrecognized, unacknowledged, and unexamined - and one often impacting most harshly those individuals who already are subject to other forms of discrimination based on gender, socioeconomic status, and race.
Like other forms of discrimination, ruralism employs stereotypes. These rural stereotypes - as is true of other stereotypes - fall within a dichotomous desirable/undesirable pattern: Rural places are desirable, indeed idealized and romanticized; rural dwellers are undesirable, indeed denigrated and ridiculed. This dichotomy might be primarily only of sociological interest, were it not for the fact that this same dichotomy is demonstrable in the legal arena as well. As this Article demonstrates, ruralism is not merely another type of bias - ruralism impacts laws, lawyers' arguments, and court decisions in predictable and illegitimate ways.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 35
Date posted: October 25, 2005