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rural-urban continuum

  A continuous gradation of ways of life between the two poles of truly rural community and truly urban society. The concept suggests that the way of life is best understood in terms of the type of settlement that people live in, and it has been used both to distinguish between urban and rural extremes, and as a theory of social change which emphasizes the transformations from one pole to another. The characteristics of urban and rural polarities were drawn from Redfield\'s (1941) \'folk-urban continuum\', Wirth\'s (1938) \'urbanism as a way of life\' and Tönnies\' (1955) differentiation between Gemeinschaft (the community built round kinship, attachment to place and cooperative action) and Gesellschaft (the association or society of industrialized populations, where impersonal relationships are founded on formal contract and exchange).

A series of studies (see Frankenberg, 1966, in the UK; also Fischer, 1976; Glenn and Hill, 1977, in the USA) have reflected the continuum concept in their descriptions of differences in economic, family, religious, political and social characteristics between rural community and urban society. Yet the question here is not whether such differences occur, but whether \'rural\' or \'urban\' are causal factors in these differences. The continuum has been heavily criticized not only for its western ethnocentrism but also because studies clearly showed different elements of \'urban\' and \'rural\' in the same community (Gans, 1962). Thus the revelation of village communities in cities and urban societies in supposedly rural areas (Pahl, 1965) seriously undermined the concept. Indeed, Ray Pahl is commonly credited with demolishing the concept of a rural-urban continuum, finding its use simplistic and overgeneralized and, more crucially, arguing against the formulation of a sociological definition of any settlement type (Pahl, 1966). He preferred to describe the rural-urban relationship as \'a whole series of meshes of different textures superimposed on each other, together forming a process which is creating a much more complex pattern\' (p. 321).

More recently, geographers have recognized that rural-urban relations have become increasingly blurred, fragmented and renegotiated in postmodern times (see rural geography). Attention has, therefore, been focused on how social and cultural constructions of rurality have interconnected with human agency, lifestyles and lifeworlds to form \'experiences from within\' of the rural. Geographers have also been interested in how these experiences have been structured or mediated \'from the outside\', and have sought to map out the impacts in rural areas of wider social, economic and political changes. (PJC)

References Fischer, C. 1976: The metropolitan experience. In A.H. Hawley, and V. Rock, eds, Metropolitan America in contemporary perspective. New York: Halstead, 201-34. Frankenberg, R. 1966: Communities in Britain. London: Pergamon. Gans, H. 1962: The urban villagers. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Glenn, N.D. and Hill, L. 1977: Rural-urban differences in attitudes and behaviour in the United States. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 429: 36-50. Pahl, R.E. 1965: Urbs in rure. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Pahl, R.E. 1966: The rural-urban continuum. Sociologia Ruralis 6: 299-327. Redfield, R. 1941: The folk culture of Yucatan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Tonnies, F. 1955 [orig. pub. 1887]: Community and society. New York: Harper and Row. Wirth, L. 1938: Urbanism as a way of life. American Journal of Sociology 44: 1-24.



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