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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Resurgent back-to-the-land and the cultivation of a renewed countryside

Sandström, Emil


In connection to concerns about, for example, climate change, peak oil, pandemics and the depopulation of many rural areas, there has been a counter-migration from urban to rural areas in past decades. An important part of this counter-migration is the so-called 'back-to-the-land' migration of former urban residents who move to rural areas and adopt primarily agrarian lifestyles. Through a review of 48 migration letters in which migrants write about their experiences of moving from urban to rural areas to commence agriculture, this article explores the underlying ideals and agricultural practices of the back-to-land phenomena and discusses what significance this form of agricultural migration may have for understanding broader sustainability transformations and contemporary rural change. Important questions concern: What kinds of motives, practices and ideals underpin back-to-the-land migration? What relevance does "back-to-the-land" have for how we comprehend rurality and how the current food landscape is changing? Based on the letter reviews, this article illuminates four interconnected themes with regard to back-to-the-landers practices and ideals. Back-to-the-land as (i) rebelling against payroll work and meaningless lives in the cities, (ii) reinvention and retrotopia, (iii) reconnecting with nature and cultivating resilient alternatives and (iv) resistance and silent revolution. The article argues that the current back-to-land migration contributes to the construction of a renewed rurality-a reinvented form of rurality-that are adapted to suit both present and future needs in a world that is perceived as becoming more unruly. The article further suggests that, although back-to-the-land migration may not yet have any significant material implications on the current food system, the ideals and practices the back-to-the-landers profess, provide an important imaginary of how we can comprehend an alternative 'rurality' that reconnect people, land and food in more sustainable ways, through, for example, benign ways of practising agriculture and organising the food system. In this light, the current back-to-the-land phenomena can be seen as a particular form of sustainability migration of voluntary peasantry that is based on retrotopian ideals of a rural past that is paired with progressive sustainability practices of the present.


back-to-the-land; renewed rurality; retrotopia; rural sustainability; new peasantry; urban rural migration

Published in

Sociologia Ruralis
2023, Volume: 63, number: 3, pages: 544-563
Publisher: WILEY

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG11 Sustainable cities and communities

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Sociology (excluding Social work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
    Human Geography

    Publication identifier


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