Country, as an identity or descriptive quality, is the state or character of being rural regardless of environment. It can be at direct odds with quantitative measures of ruralness such as those used by governments for statistical analysis. Country is subjective and often intuitive. It encompasses a broad base of ideas and perceptions that may differ at local, regional or national levels. The term country can be used to refer to individuals both in singular and plural, while the term countryfolk is exclusively used collectively.
Identity has the tendency to be more localized within relatively isolated populations. Such populations, having distinct traditions of their own, can often be viewed as an outgroup and marginalized by the dominant culture. Accordingly, contrast between rural and urban realities not only produces measurable differences politically and economically, but also affects populations in terms of social identification. Country conceptualization shifts the focus away from the prevailing forces in society (usually centered in larger, metropolitan regions) and towards those on the periphery of society (remote areas and small towns). Consequently, this transition causes rural populations to feel less ignored, better connected with rural diaspora and significantly more empowered. By extension this transition highlights that rural culture is pervasive and does not necessarily depend on residing in a rural area. As a result country conceptualization often assists in reversing negative psychological consequences of frequent marginalization.
Country is a subjective state that perceives the rural experience as focal and inseparable to ones identity, regardless of location. This is often expressed in the demarginalization of ideas, values or lifestyles held as being representative of such a character. A concise understanding of Country as an overarching concept is difficult due to the tendency by observers to equate it with frequently associated elements. As well, by individuals and groups denoting Country with classification that limits in such terms (IE "rural working-class culture" or "southern culture"). However, country conceptualization is perhaps best epitomized not in objective elements, as place, class or environment, but rather in its subjective symbolism and in the perception that individuals can continue to retain a sense of ruralness even in urbanized areas. As there is no definitive, scholarly consensus on precisely what constitutes as Country, much of its discourse can be attributed to the artistic community who describe it in romanticized ways. In her master thesis, Manifestations of Collective Identity in Country Music - Cultural, Regional, National, Stephanie Schäfer denotes that country music is important tool for reinforcing this collective identity. Despite Schäfer's analysis of country music as losing much of its "ground" in recent years through commercialization, even modern songs such as How Country Feels (Randy Houser), A Little More Country Than That (Easton Corbin), I'm Country (Craig Morgan), She's Country (Jason Aldean), etc. continue to, directly or indirectly, address the topic of Country conceptualization. For example, Luke Bryan in What Country Is illustrates Country by contrasting it with what it is not. He elaborates that:
It [Country] ain't a jacked up truck that's never seen a pasture,
It's cars pulling over for a no cap tractor,
It's homemade peach ice cream on sun-burnt lips,
No, it can't be bought it's somethin' you're born with,
That's what country is.
This emphasis of non-material culture over material resonates with the rural experience as being represented through material elements rather than solely consisting of them. Within the United States country frequently transcends a close relationship with the Culture of the Southern United States as a source of unity and empowerment of local, marginalized peoples who feel left out from the dominant culture. The preference to identify as country before more tradition means of classification, such as race or class, is reflected of self-determination theory. As human beings have an inherent drive to better their association with others they consistently try to do so more effectively. Country identification is one way in that an individual strives for this realization by identifying in ways that are more advantageous to rural populations and not necessarily in ways dictated by mainstream society.
- Ching, Barbara, and Gerald W. Creed. (1997), Knowing Your Place: Rural Identity and Cultural Hierarchy, New York: RoutledgeCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Schäfer, Stephanie (2011). Manifestations of Collective Identity in Country Music - Cultural, Regional, National (MA thesis). Diplomica Verlag GmbH. ISBN 978-3-8428-2301-3.