In Memoriam: Recognizing the Achievements and Enduring Legacy of Rabel J. Burdge

We are deeply saddened to report that Rabel J. Burdge, an icon in the fields of rural and natural resource sociology, passed away at the age of 84 on July 3, 2022 following a brief illness. Rabel was Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he held appointments from 1976 to 1996 in the Institute for Environmental Studies and the Departments of Agricultural Economics (Rural Sociology), Leisure Studies (Parks and Recreation) and Urban and Regional Planning. Following retirement from the University of Illinois he served from 1996 to 2012 as Adjunct Professor in the Department of Sociology and Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University. In 2012 Rabel and his wife Joyce returned to Urbana. In the ensuing years he continued to be actively engaged in professional writing and the regular presentation of his highly-regarded training courses on the practice of social impact assessment.

Educated at Ohio State (BS, 1959; MS, 1961) and Penn State (PhD, 1965), Dr. Burdge also served on the faculties of the US Air Force Academy (1965-69) and the University of Kentucky (1968-76). In addition, he was an Honorary Professor in the School of Australian Environmental Studies at Griffith University in Brisbane, spent time as a visiting Resident Professor in the Department of Western Sociology at University of Wageningen, the Netherlands, and was visiting professor in the Department of Planning and Landscape and the Environmental Impact Assessment Centre at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

Rabel’s work in the fields of rural and natural resource sociology was broad and impactful. He published or presented over 300 scholarly articles and papers on social change in rural communities, natural resource and environmental issues, needs assessment surveys, the use of public involvement in environmental decision-making processes, the social and economic impacts of development projects, the siting of hazardous and conventional waste disposal facilities, and natural resource recreation management. His published works include two foundational books in the field of social impact assessment (The Concepts, Process and Methods of Social Impact Assessment  and A Community Guide to Social Impact Assessment) that in their most recently-updated (2015) editions continue to be standard references for SIA educators and practitioners throughout the world. He was also co-author of Social Change in Rural Societies: An Introduction to Rural Sociology, an updated edition of a classic text originally written by Everett Rogers.

Beyond these scholarly contributions, Rabel’s most enduring academic legacy revolves around the pivotal role he played in  developing and providing leadership to several major national and international professional organizations. His career-long involvement with the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) included serving a term as Vice President (1988-89), and from 1994-2000 as that organization’s Executive Director and Treasurer and editor of The Rural Sociologist. In 1988 he became a founding co-editor of the journal Society and Natural Resources, and played a key role in organizing and hosting two of the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management conferences that precipitated the formation of the International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR). In 1990, he was elected President of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA). In addition to these roles he also served as editor of the Journal of Leisure Research, and as founding co-editor of Leisure Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Journal.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Burdge received many recognitions and awards for his contributions to the fields of rural sociology and natural resource/environmental social science. In 1982 he received the Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt Award for Excellence in Recreation, Park and Conservation Research given by the National Recreation and Park Association and was also elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Leisure Sciences. He received the RSS Natural Resources Research Group’s Award of Merit in 1988, and in 1996 was named Distinguished Rural Sociologist, the highest honor given by the Rural Sociological Society. In 1994 he received the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Award from the IAIA for outstanding contributions to the field of impact assessment. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association for Society and Natural Resources in 2011.

Across the past half-century Rabel Burdge has been a key leader of efforts to establish and expand the role of social science methods and research in helping to address complex environmental and resource management issues. He also played a central role in the establishment and growth of multiple professional organizations, scholarly journals, international conferences, and other professional activities. Even more importantly, Rabel was a valued mentor, collaborator, and friend to countless numbers of students and colleagues. He will be deeply missed, and long remembered.