Monday, 16 August 2021

Rural - Urban Continuum


Rural-urban continuum is a course of socio-economic interface between the villages and the towns or cities. Numerous cultural traits are diffused from cities to rural areas. For example, dress patterns like pants, shirts, ties, skirts, jeans, etc. diffuse from cities to rural areas. In addition, modern thoughts, ideologies are also transmitted from the cities to the rural areas due to widespread communication via radio, television, newspaper, etc. The urbanism, which is urban way of life, emerges in the cities and gradually reaches to the rural areas, depending on their immediacy to cities. The process of urbanization has not been a remote occurrence. Currently, together with the entire range of occupational diversification, spread of literacy, education, mass communication, etc, continuity between rural and urban areas has amplified. Urban jobs and other facilities of living have become status symbols in the rural areas. Several up to date techniques of agricultural development and many of the institutional frameworks for rural development are also produced from the urban centres.

The large scale commercialization of agriculture has also been facilitated by the process of urbanization. Correspondingly, agricultural requirements for machinery have generated the growth of manufacturing units in urban areas. Earlier, numerous scholars had supposed that there is a perceptible disparity between the urban and the rural community. Nevertheless, this concept of rural-urban dichotomy underwent a revolution. The scholars noticed that there was much individualism, lack of understanding, fear and suspicion even among the villagers, the peaceful village image of rural life took a severe blow. These studies pointed out that the peaceful community type of existence in villages was not a fact. Remarkably the concept of the urban community also underwent a change in the 1950s. It was found that family made life close, informal and secure. That is to say, there do exist 'Urban villages.' This aspect of complex societies is very mystifying. Moreover there exist people who live in villages and work in towns. Neither the village nor the town can thus be thought of as a stereotype.

What is clear from the above discussion is that the rural and urban life in a complex society is not the opposite of one another. In fact, it could no longer be assumed that the environment determined any one type of association. However, this is not to say that rural and urban populations do not have any differences. Usually, rural-urban continuum proposes a linear portrayal of the contrasting natures of social relationships characteristic of rural and urban settlements. This was an accepted theoretical tool to categorize diverse types of communities and the changeover between them. It began from the early 20th-century Sociology’s endeavour to understand the social changes resulting from rapid urbanization. Life in the countryside occurred in small, geographically isolated settlements which were socially homogeneous, with high levels of mutual communication and social solidarity, and which changed very slowly.

Urban communities were attributed the opposite characteristics: 

L. Louis Wirth of the Chicago School, in his highly influential essay Urbanism as a Way of Life (American Journal of Sociology, 1938), thought cities distinctive because they were large, dense and heterogeneous and that this produced the transient, disorderly, anonymous and formal associational relationships of urban living. Such understandings had affinities with Ferdinand Tonnies’ a-spatial distinction between gemeinschaft (community) and gesellschaft (association). In principle, if all settlements could be placed on such a continuum we would have a strong account of spatial arrangement influenced social life.

There are varied opinions from various sociologists; while some have used the concept of rural-urban continuum to stress the idea that there are no sharp breaking points to be found in the degree or quantity of rural-urban differences.

  1. Robert Redfield has given the concept of rural-urban continuum on the basis of his study of Mexican peasants of Tepoztlain. Redfield formulated the concept of folk–urban continuum. While folk society refers to the communities of the past, the urban society represents contemporary living. The rapid process of urbanization through the establishment of industries, urban traits and facilities has decreased the differences between villages and cities. 

Photograph of Robert Redfield

Redfield's career at the University included a significant period as Dean of the Social Sciences. As his own scholarly work demonstrated, Redfield was committed to social science research undertaken on the broadest possible interdisciplinary basis. 

Tepoztlan field notes, 1926-27

Redfield's meticulous study of customs and traditions in the Mexican village of Tepoztlan generated the material for his doctoral dissertation at the University. His field notes documented the pervasive effects of modernization on an indigenous communal culture.

  1. M. S. A. Rao points out in the Indian context that although both village and town formed part of the same civilization characterized by the institution of kinship and caste system in pre-British India, there were certain specific institutional forms and organizational ways distinguishing social and cultural life in towns form that in the village.

  2. G. S. Ghurye believes that urbanization is the migration of people from the village to city and the impact it has on the migrants and their families.

  3. Maclver remarks that though the communities are normally divided into rural and urban the line of demarcation is not always clear between these two types of communities. There is no sharp demarcation to tell where the city ends and the country begins. Every village possesses some elements of the city and every city carries some features of the village.

  4. Ramkrishna Mukherjee prefers the continuum model by talking of the degree of urbanization as a useful conceptual tool for understanding rural-urban relations.

  5. P. A. Sorokin and Zimmerman, in 'Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology’, have stated that the factors distinguishing rural from urban communities include occupation, size and density of population as well as mobility, differentiation and stratification.

  6. Ramachandran, in his study on urbanisation in India, examines the concept of rural-urban continuum beginning from the morphology of settlements, if and how large settlements differ from the small ones. Irrespective of their size, settlements are places where human beings engage with one another. Moreover, small and large settlements hardly differ with regard to social structure.

A number of sociologists believe that it is complicated to differentiate between rural and urban areas predominantly in countries where education is universal and people follow heterogeneous occupations, have membership in large organizations and therefore have secondary relations. On the other hand, a lot of sociologists have highlighted heterogeneity, impersonal relations, anonymity, division of labour, mobility, class difference, employment patterns, secularism etc. as the items to be the basis for distinguishing ruralism from urbanism. They maintain that rural and urban are two dichotomous terms that are differentiated on the basis of the above criteria.

However, there are some sociologists who still believe that this dichotomy is not possible. There is no absolute boundary line that would show a clear cut cleavage between the rural and the urban community. Secondly many a time most of these items are regular both to rural as well as urban areas with the consequence that it is complex to distinguish the two. 

In ancient times when cities lived within walls and the gates were closed at night, it was the walls that divided rural from urban. Such an ancient city was like a house for its inhabitants or a self-isolated island. With the coming of industrialism, cities could no longer be preserved within walls. As such the walls were a hassle, access being more important. Cities turned from building walls to roads. In recent times it is not basically practicable to draw a line between city and country because of their mutual interdependence. Scholars, both of urban and rural sociology, are largely in agreement that rural community that is not under the urban influence would be difficult to locate. On the other hand, there is no urban community without a substantial share of people of rural origin not yet fully urbanized.

Ruralites who migrate to cities continue to maintain links with their kin in villages. Social change may have weakened family bonds but primary relations have not vanished. The prototype of migration is often step by step from village to small town, to big city and to metropolitan city. It is worth mentioning in this context that our metropolitan cities have ‘rural pockets’. In other words, the rural penetrates into the city as the urban penetrates into the country and the city and the villages are not dichotomous entities but co-terminus units. The rural-urban continuum can be represented in a diagram as follows:


The two extremes of the line represent two forms of life on one remote village and on the other metropolitan life. In this way, it can visualize communities as ranging from the most urban to the least urban. The purely urban and the purely rural would be abstractions at the opposite poles of the ‘rural-urban dichotomy’. This range between the extremes is termed by some sociologists as the rural-urban continuum, generally, the villages having the most contact with the city tend to be more urbanized than those with the least contacts. It would differ from the urbanity of the city and the rurality of the country.

This wide fluctuation in definitions has three important implications:

  1. Official classifications should be treated with caution—for example, a large proportion of settlements classed as ‘rural’ in China and India would fall within the ‘urban’ category, if they used the criteria and population thresholds adopted by many other countries. Given the size of the population of these two countries, this would significantly increase the overall proportion of urban residents in Asia and in the world.

  2. International comparisons are difficult, as they may look at settlements that, despite being classed in the same category, may be very different in both population size and infrastructure. Further, the reliability of data on urbanization trends within one nation can be compromised by changes in the definition of urban centres over time.

  3. Public investment in services and infrastructure tends to concentrate on the centres that are defined as urban. As a consequence, investment can bypass settlements not defined as urban even if these can, and often do, have an important ‘urban role in the development of the surrounding rural areas. Within national and regional urban systems, larger cities also tend to be favoured with public investment over small- and intermediate-sized urban centres, including those with important roles in supporting agricultural production, processing and marketing.

In India, the development of transport and communication has brought inaccessible tribal areas in contact with rural areas and rural areas with the urban areas. The spread of education, governmental activities, intrusion of market and cross mobility in these areas have started a process of change in which there is evidence of both rural and urban influence. Thus, the rural-urban continuum can be said to be getting more pronounced with urbanisation and social change.


Agrarian Relations and Social Structure in India ~ Link

K L Sharma (editor) - Readings in Indian Sociology_ Volume II_ Sociological Probings in Rural Society (2013) (pp. 50-56)~ Link

Lecture 18 Rural-Urban Continuum ~ Link

The Folk Society - Robert Redfield ~ Link

Social Dynamics And Change (pp. 25-38) ~ Link

Rural Sociology by Subrata S. Satapathy ~ Link

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