The notion of ‘countryside’ or ‘rural areas’ has been of interest to both academics and policy-makers over the past three decades. In academic circles, this explains, among other aspects, the establishment of the professional multidisciplinary Journal of Rural Studies (JRS), initiated by Professor Paul Cloke back in 1985. This journal was initially about rural studies which, at the time of its creation, was unique at the international level by way of the absence of a similar equivalent of an academic periodical with the same focus. Since then, rural studies have grown to become an established, self-contained and reputable area of inquiry, with the aforementioned journal enjoying increased stature and recognition. In the thirty or so years since JRS’s founding, debates relating to rural studies have shifted considerably, being marked by a variety of approaches to define and assess rural space, contributing to the inception of separate rural policy at national and EU levels. Nonetheless, a common definition of rural areas and rurality is still to come, and a consensus within and across disparate groups of academics and policy-makers remains illusory. Therefore, we open this edited volume by presenting, assessing and interrogating the multitude of approaches to defining and understanding rural areas. It should be emphasised that it is not our ambition to generate a new definition of rurality or rural areas. Rather, the intention of the editors is to depict a countryside that is constantly under pressure from a number of different factors (demographic, socio-economic, and political) which influence the defining framework.