About the blog

"The “Anthropology for Beginners” blog by Suman Nath is one of the most user/reader friendly sites relative to such an endeavor." - Global Oxford "This blog contains lots of study materials on Anthropology and related topics" - University of Kassel University of Houston includes Anthropology for beginners in their recommended reading list. This is a humble endeavour to collect study materials on anthropology and then share it with interested others. How to use: 1. One can see materials by clicking "Blog Archives" which is arranged chronologically. 2. Or can search in the search box provided by using key words. I have not tried to be exhaustive, but its just elementary materials which will help newcomers to build up their materials better. Because of the rising number of requests from people across the world, Anthropology for beginners has started a youtube channel. Those who are willing to have some explanations to the materials available in this blog can subscribe to this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_cq5vZOzI9aDstQEkru_MQ/videos Watch the introductory video to get an overview of the youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY9DOnD0Uxo You can write me about the posts. Feel free to write me at sumananthro1@gmail.com Best, Suman

Monday 17 May 2021



Studies of urbanisation deal with city ward movement and modes of settlement; those of the 1950s-1970s urban anthropology heydays concerned Third World ‘peasants in cities’, the ‘adaptive functions’ of kinship and voluntary associations, and the persistence and creation of ethnic identities and political organization.


In anthropology the study of the process of Urbanisation started with a debate on weather rural and urban are two distinctively identifiable and isolated poles or not. The long history of ethnographic research especially because of the dominant paradigm of functionalism, scholars have been of the perception that villages were self sufficient units that doesn’t really have a strong connection with the urban centres. This very notion began to change with the Robert Redfield who developed a model of connection between the rural and urban poles, which is known as the folk-urban continuum. He tried to classify different types of community and historic process, which he illustrated with examples from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico (Redfield 1941). At one end of the continuum was the "modern" city of Merida, while at the other was a small, "traditional" indigenous village. These two communities represented the most and the least developed types. In comparing them Redfield examined their respective technology, social organization, and worldview (Miner 1952). Thus Merida was a modern city populated with many individuals who participated in national and international affairs, were relatively free to make social and economic decisions, and had modern worldviews. In contrast the "Indians" of the village lived from foraging (see foragers) and swidden agriculture. They had a prescientific worldview and unlike the individual freedom and modernity of the urbanites, they were tightly incorporated into familial and community social relationships that restricted personal freedom. Intermediate between these polar extremes Redfield identified two other communities: a commercial rural "town" with close ties to the city, and the peasant community of Chan Kom, which had a mix of "traditional" and "modern" features but more closely resembled the village. Redfield saw historical change as occurring by the diffusion of modern technology, social forms, and ideas outward from the city toward the folk end of the continuum in a gradual process of modernization.

Robert Redfield later on collaborated with Milton Singer to study the process of urbanisation. With their intensive studies they argued that city is the center of change and that this susccptibility to change is reflected in two types of cities a) orthogenetic and b) heterogenetic. Recognizing the classic distinction between the preindustrial and post-industrial cities, they classified all postindustrial cities as heterogenetic. The orthogenetic city is one which is the center of native bureaucratic functions. Its population is relativelv homogeneous in culture of origin. These centers became the centers of a) Primary urbanization. The trend of primary urbanisation is to coordinate political economic, educational, intellectual and aesthetic activities to the norms provided by Great Tradition. In this process of urbanization the cultural role of the city is to maintain and continuously reintegrate the Great Tradition by injecting elements of Little Tradition through interaction of the city and peasantry. Redfield and Singer state that this form of the city is basically conservative. Although some change does take place as city and countryside interact with each other. They suggest that there is continuity between aspects of the Great Tradition at different points in time. Examples of this form of urbanization include Benares in India and Peking (Peiping) in China.

While orthogenetic cities formed by primary urbanization are preindustrial, heterogenetic cities include one elements of preindustrial city and postindustrial types. Heterogenetic cities include people of different cultural origins as well as from places outside the local social worlds.  In such cities these outside influences are from beyond the political boundaries of the state itself; in other cases, they are from beyond the immediate hinterland. The main function of such cities as a place for the exchange of goods and services require standardized value. As a place the divergent cosmologies and lifestyle are juxtaposed, the city becomes a narrator or sources of new ideas. If we refer back to the distinction previously made between great and Little tradition. A heterogenetic city of the preindustrial type is one in which a variety of Great Traditions interact with one another. Shifting our attention to the postindustrial heterogenetic city, we discover two types: the new administrative city and the financial city. The process of secondary urbanisation works in the industrial phase of the city, and is characterised by heterogenetic development. Thus, the effects of secondary urbanisation are those of disintegration. They opine that: “the general consequence of secondary urbanisation is the weakening of suppression of the local and traditional cultures by states of mind that are incongruent with those local cultures.” The first type carries forward the regional tradition, and the city becomes its epi-centre, the second type bring external elements to the city.


[Youtube link to the class lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2uWn-Qr0oc



Urban Ecology


Urban Ecology

Urban ecology, pioneered by Chicago sociologists in the 1920s, was central to the development of human ecology. Indeed the two terms are often used interchangeably.  Urban ecology applies principles derived from biological science to the explanation of spatial distribution in urban populations. This is said to result from ‘biotic’ competition for territorial advantage by human groups, each constituted by social basis, for example, common class position or ethnicity. It was an approach to the study of cities, social change, and urban life, these theories were introduced into sociology by the Chicago School to explain the competition between social groups for scarce resources such as land. The competition between groups was assumed to increase efficiency and promote a greater division of labor. These competitive struggles meant that distinctive social groups had adapted to their local environment, just as the competition between plants and their adaptation to the local environment in the natural world resulted in specialization. The balance between competition and co-operation functions to allocate members of a population to urban niches. The city, like the economy, was seen to produce a social equilibrium. According to the theory, groups occupy distinctive ‘natural areas’ or neighbourhoods. The concentric zone model proposed by Ernest Burgess is an ecological representation of this urban system. The ecological concepts of invasion, domination, and succession describe the stages of change occurring as groups relocate due to competitive pressures. However, unrestrained biotic competition makes social order impossible, so a second level of social organization (‘culture’) overlays and limits territorial competition. This involves communication, consensus, and co-operation, seen in both the natural areas occupied by socially homogeneous groups, and in city-wide mechanisms of integration, such as mass culture, the media, and urban politics. This competitive process was also described in terms of the concentric zone theory in which the central zone of the city is occupied by banks and the service sector, while the zone of transition emerges as the central business district expands outwards. Social classes are distributed through various zones according to rental values, house prices, and the accessibility of work. The manual workers live in the third zone and the fourth zone houses the middle class. The fringe of the city is a commuter belt. This theory helps us to understand how migrants move into run-down areas of the city where rental costs are low and, as a result of social mobility, they can move eventually to better-quality housing as they join the middle class. The urban ecology school embraced a number of prominent American sociologists,  including Robert Ezra Park, Ernest W. Burgess, and Roderick D. McKenzie who published The City (1925). It is not clear that there is a systematic theory of the urban ecology; there appears to be rather a collection of assumptions about how cities develop over time. Another member of the Chicago School, Louis Wirth, following the approach of Georg Simmel, wrote his famous “Urbanism as a Way of Life” (1938, American Journal of Sociology) in which he described the anomie and anonymity of city life.


Urban ecology has been criticized because its assumptions are too simple to explain the variations between cities, but its basic notions (about the central business district, transition zones, and the urban distribution of social classes) continue to influence the work of modern sociology. Few sociologists now accept the biologically derived assumptions underlying urban ecology. However, the urban ecologists' use of Chicago as a research laboratory contributed greatly to the development of empirically grounded sociology and its research methods, influencing directly the development of urban sociology, community studies, cultural sociology, the study of deviance and illness, social and religious movements, the family and race relations, and rural sociology. The recollections by Helen MacGill Hughes of her training in Chicago shed an interesting light on the (at times naïve) methodology of urban ecology.


Youtube class lecture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlnEgCSEYkc&ab_channel=AnthropologyforBeginners