Document Type


Publication Date



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Social Work


The dichotomy of urban and rural areas does not fit the circumstances of contemporary social life in the United States. Although needy populations redistributed across the social landscape, almost no social service agencies serving rural populations are, or ever have been, located in either urban (city) or rural (countryside) areas. Social agencies serving rural populations are nearly always located in towns. The town is a unique and distinctive rural social, economic and political institution. An adequate approach to conceptualizing rural social work must begin with recognition of one of the fundamental insights of contemporary urban theory: the regional character of social, economic and political life and the role of towns as regional service centers. This year marks the seventeenth anniversary of the rural social work movement, which began at the Knoxville conference in July, 1976. Such an anniversary is an occasion to look back at what we have accomplished and to look ahead at what remains to be done and how the task has evolved.

Source Citation

This paper was originally presented as “Service Centers: The Forgotten Role of Towns in Rural Service Delivery” at the National Institute on Social Work and Human Services in Rural Areas, Morgantown WV. July, 1992.


This version of the paper includes an updated bibliography on a broad range of international rural and town studies sources. Except for citations noted in the paper, this literature has not been reviewed in the writing of this paper.



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