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Brief Communicatzons


George Foster’s article, “What Is Folk Culture?,” which appeared in a recent issue of the ANTHROPOLOGIST(1953), adds another to the number of critiques of the work of Robert Redfield now in the literature. This is further evidence that Redfield’s field work and theoretical discussions have borne fruit not only through the continuing efforts of his students, but also in ‘the controversies provoked by his theses. Redfield himself, in ‘a recent article (1953a:224), has noted that much of the importance of his work has come from the fact that it has compelled his critics to reconsider their own data with more insight. His comment may hold for Foster’s recent critique as well. Foster’s article suggests that these two scholars differ in their initial positions in important regards. The present writer would like to note several of these apparent differences, and to discuss them, more as an observer than as a critic.

Redfield is interested in process, Foster in structure

The terms “process” and “structure” may not be the most appropriate, and neither of these scholars appears to exclude consideration of the other’s area of interest by choice. But different problems require different categories of research. The “types” formulated to answer one set of questions may not prove useful in providing answers to another. Redfield is primarily interested in the delineation of processes of change, qua change. As Foster states, “Red- field’s interests in cultural processes are primarily limited to what happens to folk societies” (1953:162). Or, in Redfield’s own words in his latest book, “What becomes of the folk society?” (Redfield 19533327). The synchronic study of four Yucatecan communities, as summarized in The Folk Culture of Yucatan, purported to “seek through this method of comparison of differently affected communities some general knowledge as to the nature of society and of its changes” (Redfield 1941:342-43). In subsequent pages, Redfield tries to define his enquiry more specifically: “The problem is seen as one of the rela- tion among variables” (ibid. 344). These variables deal with process: organiza- tion and disorganization, secularization, individualization. One may argue over the meaning and theoretical value of these concepts; but this reader at least is convinced that these, rather than the delineation of the types them- shes, are the main concern of Redfield’s theorizing. Accordingly, one might say that Redfield’s ideal types are no more than anchors for his interpretation of process. It is in these terms that his frequent lumping together of “folk” and “primitive” society (1941, 1947, 19533) serves his purposes, at the same time that it is so unsatisfactory for those of many of his critics. To the present reader, the communities of Dzitas and Chan Kom appear to be the com- munities of major interest in The Folk Culture of Yucatan; Tusik and Merida,



on the other hand, seem to be used more for the purpose of understanding changes in the intermediate communities than as community examples themselves. The qualities involved in “becoming urban” are the object of interest, rather than the “folk-primitive” or urban polar types. Since it is process and not typology which interests Redfield, he is not confounded by unanticipated combinations of folk and urban elements in a single community setting. The folk culture of the Yaqui Indians of Pascua (Spicer 1940) who live next to the city of Tucson, the homogeneous yet commercial Indians of Chichi- castenango (Tax 1939), and the existence of urban but nonindividualized West African cities (Herskovits 1948:606), are merely taken to be further evidence that processes of change operate in many different ways, and along many different axes. Consequently, criticisms of Redfield which attack his ideal types while passing over his interpretations of process may be missing the point. In his most recent published work, Redfield makes clear that he knows that peasant society is not the same as primitive society, and that there is an intimate relationship between the former type and urban society but that no such relationship exists for the latter. Here he seems to equate “folk” and “primitive,” while setting “peasant” apart:

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American Anthropologist

The word [peasant] points to a human

It required the city to bring it into

existence. There were no peasants before the first cities. And those surviving primitive

We may summarize

saying that it combines the primi-

the economic character of the peasant village by

peoples who do not live in terms of the city are not

tive brotherhood of the precivilised folk community with the economic nexus charac-

teristic oj civilized

Peasant and urbanite are, in cerlain things, one society,

and the peasanl knows it [Redfield 1953b:31-38 passim]. [Italics mine.-S.W.M.]

Aside from whatever semantic importance may be attached to the use of particular words for particular concepts, Foster’s argument is in neat accord with Redfield’s, and not an attack upon it. The folk society, in Foster’s view, is an integral part of a larger society:

The folk component of this larger unit bears a symbiotic spatial-temporal relation- ship to the more complex component, which is formed by the upper classes of the

One of the most obvious distinctions between truly

primitive societies and folk societies is that the latter, over hundreds of years, have


had constant contact with the centers of intellectual thought and development-

in a nut-shell, with civilization [Foster 1953 : 163-641.

Foster, however, is apparently interested in trying to establish a classifica- tion of societal, subcultural or community types in terms of structure. For a typologist of cultures, a classificatory tool which fails to set apart the Ona or the Eskimo from the villages of the Tarascans is not cutting very fine. Foster objects that, previous to his most recent work, “Redfield’s typological dichot- omy [folk versus urban] groups all non-urban peoples together, the most prim- itive, isolated tribal groups, acculturated primitives, the mixed rural cultures of Latin America, and the peasant peoples of Europe,’’ and that such a di-

Btiej Communications

chotomy may “stereotype field research and obscure salient characteristics of the societies in which we are interested” (Foster 1953:162). Foster’s con- cern with the relationship between the folk and nonfolk segments of a given society, and his emphasis on structure in defining folk society (1953:171) make plain that the questions he asks are not Redfield’s, and that the answers he seeks will be correspondingly different. Two conclusions emerge: first, Foster criticizes Redfield’s types in terms of his own structural interests; he does not come to grips with Redfield’s treatment of process. To do justice to Redfield’s approach, it is not sufficient to point out that the types themeslves do not jibe with descriptions of any real communities, or that polar types are inadequate. Rather, it becomes important to show how these types affect his process interpretation, and where they may interfere with such an interpretation. I have noted elsewhere (1953) that Redfield’s omission of the study of a henequen plantation community in Yucatan, where henequen is the basic cash crop of the economy, certainly affected his analysis of social change, since it is probably through henequen that the major kinds of change have been introduced in recent years into Yuca- tecan society. Second, it would seem that Redfield’s theoretical concern with the nature of process has led to misinterpretation by his readers. This is not to argue that criticisms of the characterization of his “folk ideal type” are unwarranted. But, plainly, more clarification is needed with regard to the difference between structural types on the one hand, and process interpretation on the other. Neither Redfield, nor Foster, nor any of Redfield’s other critics have made this difference sufficiently clear.

Redfield is ahistorical; Foster is interested in history

Redfield’s use of history, at least in the works discussed by Foster, is mini- mal, and he assigns it little importance in getting at his major interest. As

Foster states, while “Redfield recognizes the complex historical origins of the

cultures of Tepoztlan and

germane to the problem that interests him” (Foster 1953:162-63). Foster’s concern derives from his own interest in history and his apparent conviction that careful historical analysis might eventually lead to the abstraction of general regularities of social process from particularistic studies of the culture

histories of peoples. He does not dwell on the consequences of Redfield’s lack of historical interest for a theory of social process, but his own conception of what folk society and folk culture should mean reveals his strong historical bent. While his definition of the folk is essentially in terms of relationships, his examples of the formation of Latin American folk culture (pp. 165-68) are historical examples, culled from the culture history of the Hispanic peoples in the New World. One of the differences between these two scholars, then, would seem to lie in their ways of getting at scientific generalizations about change. Redfield’s preconceptions about the nature of change are certainly not antihistorical,


[he] feels that their study is not


but Foster is plainly not in agreement when he quotes Redfield to the effect that “in Yucatan the problems of historical analysis ‘do not easily lead into larger problems’ (Foster 1953: 163). Foster does not declare his own implicit assumption that the study of history and the analysis of social processes are linked tasks, though the assumption is present when he writes:

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A merican A nthropologist

, [the merging of primitive with folk

or peasant society]presupposes that all human society must have been “folk” until

the beginnings of city life which, over an ever-increasingarea, encroaches upon and destroys folk culture. Therefore, since folk culture has always existed, a study of its origins is coterminous with the study of the origins of culture itself, and is not a

particular facet of the dynamics of the

from the developmental point of

folk culture problem [Foster 1953 : 1621.

It would seem here that Foster is openly criticizing Redfield’s failure to delimit his ideal types more sharply, when in fact his implicit criticism seems directed actually toward Redfield’s view that process can be analyzed without the need for detailed historical interpretation.2

Foster’s alternative type formulation, and the problem of class subculture

Foster’s emphasis on the distinctions between folk and primitive societies allows him to advance alternative definitions of folk culture and folk society. He seeks to redefine folk society and folk culture in terms of the relationship between the urban elite and other segments of the same (“pre-industrial”) society: the rural people and the urban lower classes. Bearers of folk culture

are those who, in such a society, stand in a dependent relationship to the city and its governing classes. Such a formulation, however, leaves much to be desired. At one point in Foster’s article, the urban originators of much of what are later to become folk elements are the “intellectual and artistic classes”

(p. 165); at another, “the educated,

third, “socially superior groups” (p. 168). The bearers of folk culture, on the other hand, vary from being “peasant societies” (p. 163) to “the lower classes of some types of cities” (p. 169), and finally, to “the masses, whether rural or urban” (pp. 164-65). An obvious difficulty here is the crosscutting or over- lapping of concepts which have to do with the folk, with those having to do with class. Both Redfield and Foster are aware of this crosscutting. But neither of them has given a very exacting indication of where folk culture ends and class subculture begins. For example, features of a community’s way of life may be attributed in part to a preexisting folk society matrix: the culture history of the community. But the retention of this way of life may, in part at least, be attributed as well to the wholesale incorporation of such a community into the bottom class of a modern class-structured society. The Yaqui community of Pascua has retained a culture which Redfield, and perhaps Foster as well, would label “folk”; also, it is isolated, homogeneous, and organized in ways analogous to those which held for the community in its original Mexican

setting. But the difference is that now it is isolated, homogeneous, and organ- ized similarly to the way it was organized before because the structural rela- tionship which exists between this community and the larger society of which

professional classes” (loc. cit.); and at a

Brief Communications


it has become a part is marked by socioeconomic limitations and class differ- ences which set it apart-thus allowing it, and in some ways, perhaps, compell- ing it, to maintain its ethnic individuality. 1 have tried to show elsewhere (1953) how a rural proletarian community may exhibit certain structural features analogous to the Redfield concept of folk society, but that these features are in fact only analogous and not homol- ogous. Geographic isolation may be superseded by social isolation through rather rigid class differentiation. Homogeneity, the very wide sharing of a number of different roles within a social group, may characterize a social class as well as a genetic or ethnic group, even while the particular personnel of a given group may vary. “Every man a primary producer” may be sup- planted by “Every man a wage earner and a consumer of similar goods, pro- duced elsewhere and bought for cash.” These superficial parallels with Red-

field’s ideal folk society are to be explained in terms of the like economic status and life-chances of the people concerned; that is, in terms of the formation of

a rural proletarian class.

Foster writes that “Content is a useful but nonetheless incidental criterion

defining class groupings.

If items of co,ntent are “incidental,” to use Foster’s term, if “the diagnostic criteria pertaining to folk culture and society are structural and organic, and

have to do with relationships” (Zoc. cit.), are we not dealing primarily with sociological concepts such as class? And if the structural relationships be- tween the bearers of folk culture and the intellectual, artistic, educated, pro- fessional, or socially superior classes or subgroups of the same society are class relationships, then Foster may be incorrect in assuming that increasing indus- trialization will destroy the so-called folk cultures of the world. No one can question the tremendous impact of urban, industrial, “West- ern” culture on the world’s primitives and peasants. But industrial civilizations have not eradicated class stratification-in fact, in many cases they have created class divisions where they did not exist before or where they had existed

in less complex forms. In Africa, Asia, and Latin America, for instance, myriad

new forms of division of labor, occupational specialization, differentiation in wealth and in access to land have appeared. The multiplication of alternatives which, according to Redfield’s formulation, appears in urban society, has led to the growth of class subcultures. Plantation and mine communities, and the lower classes of many cities, continue to maintain many “folk qualities” in strength. The structural relationships are such that significant cultural differ- ences are maintained between these groups and the socially superior groups in the same societies. In other words, lower-class communities may continue to preserve older cultdral practices and elements (content) largely because alternatives are not socially and economically available or feasible, rather than because of any positive preference for an older, more laborious, indigenous, or “folk-like” way of behaving. To sum up, Redfield’s and Foster’s formulations differ largely because their methods and their objectives are different. Redfield treats of process;

in defining folk” (p. 171). The same might be said of

American Anthropologist [56, 19541


his interest in types is complementary. In the works Foster criticizes, Red- field is not concerned with history and deals only tangentially with structure. Foster is interested in structure, in history, and in a more detailed typology of cultures. His concern with process and with history apparently springs from a “structuralist” viewpoint, as his criticisms of Redfield and his definitions of the folk demonstrate. Neither of these scholars, however, has dealt fully with the interrelationship of concepts of the folk and the phenomenon of class. Until this interrelationship is clear, the folk culture concept may prove to be a stumbling block to the erection of a more detailed and discriminating ty- pology of societies, subcultures, and communities.

SIDNEYW. MINTZ,Yale University


1 Thanks are due Morton H. Fried and Eric R. Wolf, who read and criticized this brief com- ment. 2 Redfield, in a recent work (1953b), does make much more use of detailed history in con- structing a folk-urban developmental schema, basing himself in large part on the work of Childe; but it is doubtful whether this is historical analysis in the sense that Foster might desire it.




1953 What is folk culture? American


Anthropologist 55: 159-73.

1948 Man and his works. New York, Knopf.


1953 The folk-urban continuum and the rural proletarian community. The American

Journal of Sociology 59:136-430. REDFIELD,ROBERT


The folk culture of Yucatan. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.


The folk society. The American Journal of Sociology 52:293-308.


The natural history of the folk society. Social Forces 31 : 224-28.

1953Q The primitive world and its transformations. Ithaca, N. Y., Cornell University Press. SPICER,EDWARDH.

1940 Pascua: a Yaqui village in Arizona. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.


1939 Culture and civilization in Guatemalan societies. Scientific Monthly 48 :463-67.


In the light of our experience in investigating and evaluating fluorine and other constituents of archeological human and animal bone, we would draw the following conclusions from the data presented by Washburn (1953) in his Table 1. Neither of us has seen the 1953 report by Weiner, Oakley and Clark. The jaw, molar and canine of Piltdown 1 and the molar tooth of Piltdown 2 we would regard as of very recent origin-i.e., modern in the temporal sense. The belief has been expressed in newspaper accounts, and apparently also by Weiner, Oakley and Clark, that these pieces were introduced into the gravels