Redfield, Robert


Redfield, Robert
(1897-1958)
An American anthropologist who, in 1930, published a study (Tepoztlan: Life in a Mexican Village) which outlines an idealtypical construct of folk society . Subsequently he suggested that the spread of urban-based civilization transforms folk societies. Depending on their social and cultural characteristics, individual settlements can be placed along an evolutionary folk-urban continuum .
According to Redfield, folk societies are small, isolated, non-literate, and socially homogeneous. There is strong group solidarity and kinship, a common culture rooted in tradition and religion, behaviour is personal and spontaneous rather than impersonal and law-bound, and there is little intellectual life. Urban societies are characterized by the converse traits: loss of isolation, heterogeneity, social disorganization, secularization, and individuality.
Redfield's ideal types encapsulate a distinction between industrial-urban and pre-industrial societies which others (such as Ferdinand Tönnies and Émile Durkheim ) had earlier espoused. His work greatly influenced rural sociology and community studies. However, in 1951 Oscar Lewis published a re-study of Tepoztlan, examining aspects of village life-especially its economy, demography, and politics-which Redfield had ignored. His findings undermined Redfield's account of folk societies, which tended to gloss over conflict, poverty, and disorganization, and to present an idealized account of primitive societies. Lewis also rejected the over-simplified and ahistorical classification of individual settlements implicit in Redfield's approach. Later work on urban communities found this ideal type, and the concept of the folk-urban continuum, equally deficient.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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