illustration Julian Mischi, the sociology of rural territories

Society and regional strategies 5 min

Julian Mischi, the sociology of rural territories

As a research director in sociology, Julian Mischi is interested in rural areas and their inhabitants. Whether dealing with the specificities of the working classes or the elite, or with municipal engagement or activism, he offers another vision of the French countryside.

Published on 05 August 2019

Lorraine, a region marked as much by industry as by agriculture: now a research director at INRAE, Julian Mischi grew up in the heart of a village of 50 inhabitants, in a rural community where farmers and workers, employees and school teachers intermingled. This strong childhood experience has never ceased to influence his academic and professional choices.

Baccalauréat in hand, and fresh out of a Literary Preparatory Class, Julian attended Sciences Po Grenoble (Grenoble Institute of Political Science) where he opted for a multidisciplinary education that combined history, philosophy, sociology… He finally decided to specialize by taking a PhD in political science on the subject of the territorial development of the French communist movement between 1920 and 2002. This sociological research project explored the heart of French regional diversity, from Meurthe-et-Moselle to Loire-Atlantique via Allier and Isère.

He then spent two years of postdoctoral research between Brittany and Great Britain, focusing on the mobilization of hunters against European directives.

In 2004, Julian Mischi was recruited by INRA (now INRAE) during a period of significant development of sociology within the organisation. The Centre for Rural Economics and Sociology applied to Agriculture and Rural Areas (INRAE, AgroSup Dijon) of the Dijon Bourgogne Franche-Comté Centre welcomed him with open arms.

Spending time with those studied

It is quite clear that the work conditions which he aspired to and will now benefit from will allow him to carry out extensive research within a field which he is particularly fond of, "something which is highly difficult, even impossible for a teacher-researcher".

The paradox of the French countryside

When Julian Mischi talks about rural territories, he is referring to working-class areas. The ruling classes are scarcely present in these parts. Farmers, as close as possible to the tools of their trade, mix with workers who are either employed locally or in search of more affordable housing. Far from popular belief, this social group is the most represented in the French countryside – around 30% of the working population in rural areas against only 6% for farmers (2016).

Power is also a significant factor: the municipal power of some, the activism of others. And when Julian says he is working on the politicization of the social activity of waterfowl hunters, he must be pictured at the mouth of the Loire river, on the lookout for conflicts taking place against a background of wetlands, between local populations wishing to indulge in hunting as a pastime, and urban populations who come there for the joys of hiking or cycling...

Five times more workers than farmers

The common thread in all this? An attempt to understand the issues specific to rurality, by exploring the diversity of its populations, as well as their ways of life and commitment to these territories.    

For years, and following extensive field surveys carried out in as close proximity as possible to municipalities and their inhabitants, Julian Mischi’s chosen approach has shown that the territory in which an individual lives and works affects his/her identity and the vision he/she has of society. The urban worker is not the rural worker, and vice versa. Beyond social affiliation, a worker, a farmer or a teacher will be different according to the place he/she lives in. Moreover, the interactions within the deeply working-class rural territories and the big cities in which intellectuals, executives and the upper classes prevail, differ and transform the way an individual defines his/herself and views society.

This particularity can also be observed at a political level. Despite their low visibility in the mainstream political spheres, the working classes are more widely present at a local level. They can be found at the head of city councils, associations and trade unions, and in positions which they do not usually hold professionally. The professionalization of political roles, however, tends to alienate these working classes from the municipal scene, for the benefit of local social elites, or urban newcomers. Workers and farmers may only cope with their marginalization through a process of political and cultural advancement and training via local collective commitments which help them foster their legitimacy.

The rural world and social elites

Julian Mischi has recently started studying social elites, executives of companies located in rural areas, and the liberal professions… in order to assess how these dominant groups differ from their urban counterparts in rural areas where unemployment, factory closures and public policy deficits are rife. He has once again decided to pack his bags and settle in new rural territories. Surveys, interviews, the use of community archives… His research is now based in the Yonne department.

Field surveys, long-term research

In addition to his research work, Julian leads an eventful life: various reports and numerous presentations, as well as regular lectures on the subject of field survey methodology, and the supervision of PhDs on the study of populations at a local level. Above all, Julian strives to publish on a regular basis: scientific papers for his peers, and publications intended for a broader intellectual audience offer him the opportunities to share his work and encourage the debates concerning the place of the working classes in society and French political life. Julian is particularly keen on this activity. For a few years now, he has taken an active part in the editorial board of the journal Le Mouvement Social - which promotes social history enriched by multiple contributions, and open to economics, sociology, anthropology, demographics, and political science whilst welcoming work from all geographic and cultural spheres. He is also a member of the Editions Hors d’atteinte publishing house. From 2011 to 2017, he was also involved with the Agone publishing house, where he co-directed the sociology collection L’ordre des choses: the latter puts the spotlight on field surveys while giving priority to empirically-based investigation and demonstration. A description which fits Julian Mischi’s extensive background and work perfectly!


Catherine Foucaud-Scheunemann,translated by Rebecca James


Julian MischiCentre for Rural Economics and Sociology applied to Agriculture and Rural Areas (INRAE, AgroSup Dijon)