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The direction of change

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

A major part of the process of increasing complexity

We tend to separate and contrast rural and urban, even to the point of having departments of rural sociology taught in schools of agriculture while urban sociology is taught in schools of arts and science.  The fact is, paradoxically, that rural and urban areas need each other, are totally dependent upon each other, and cities would not have been created were it not for the agricultural revolution.  We miss a huge amount of understanding of society when we overlook that complex interdependence.

We usually consider the first city to be Mohenjo Daro, on the banks of the Indus River, now in Pakistan.  Archaeologists may well find an earlier site, but it will serve our purposes for now.  For people to be living in the city, other people had to be outside the city producing food.

In the institutional dimension, we looked at the growth of non-family organisations.  This was made possible because of an agricultural surplus.  An agricultural surplus means that some people not directly engaged in obtaining food, could be fed by the efforts of those who specialized on obtaining food.  In contrast to gathering and hunting, which requires large areas where plants live and animals roam freely, horticulture uses smaller amounts of land to produce greater amounts of food.  Herding lies somewhere in between.

The early cities needed at least a simple division of labour: farmers to grow the surplus, traders to redistribute the goodies, artisans to make the non agricultural goods, an aristocracy to rule, with a royal leader as CEO, scribes to keep the royal accounts, and an army to keep the rest in line.  So long as they remained specialized, well organized, and interdependent, cities could grow into city states and then to kingdoms and empires.

Cities have also grown in population size from a few thousand at the time of Mohenjo Daro, to multi millions today, with large megalopoli like the north eastern seaboard of the USA where cities expand and grow into each other.  Distribution systems, an essential part of their economies, are vast and complex.

Add to that the urbanization of rural settlements, where now they obtain services like electricity, telecommunications, the Internet, and interact with others anywhere in the world, and develop many social institutions and values originally associated only with cites.  Social networks are no longer geographically bound.

Along with urbanization, comes urbanism, the social patterns and values associated with city life.  There is more of the anomie of Durkheim, more of the gesellschaft of Tönnies, and more of the alienation of Weber and Marx.  In any individual’s day, s/he would meet more strangers, and interact with other individuals less as whole people and more as people acting out specific but narrowly defined roles.

We ask if there is not a human response to this progress that tries to make life more personal in the face of increasing urbanism. Yes there is; neo gemeinschaft.

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