The current ‘struggle for space’ in the Netherlands and other north‐west European countries reflects diverse claims and concerns related to the countryside. This paper examines the underlying socio‐political discourses on the rural to impose some order on this diversity and come to an understanding of the processes through which access to and use of rural resources are constructed. After a description of the theoretical status and social relevance of rural discourse, three such discourses, drawn from current debates on the future of Dutch countryside are analysed. The agri‐ruralist, utilitarian and hedonist discourses distinguished here clearly differ in their perceptions of the main problems in rural areas, the best solutions and the social actors identified to bring about the ‘ideal countryside’. The analysis of rural discourses thus provides an adequate framework for interpreting the multiplicity of ‘visions’ and policy concepts applied in the debates on the countryside in Europe.