Western Science and global rural Worldviews in a structurally comparative Perspective

By Nold Egenter


I have chosen this topic for the following reasons. On the one hand it is related to a recent project of this house (IGNCA) on a study into rural India (Prof. B. N. Saraswati) <1>. On the other hand I have prepared a paper with similar outlooks for an architectural conference focussed on urban housing for the poor (Rizvi College, Mumbai). The paper critically maintains that architects planning for the urban poor should know their "clients" better: what is their rural culture, what brought them into the city, why do they live under these conditions?

Further, my subject is influenced by a new publication on Indian architecture partly written by close friends of mine (Jon Lang, Miki and Madhavi Desai: Architecture and Independence. The search for Identity; India 1880-1980). It deals with developments of Indian architecture between colonial impacts and independence. The dichotomy of urban and rural is an important one. What is Indian architecture proper? Its urban history being to a great deal imposed from outside, is it then to be found in the village world of its rural areas?

But, here I would like to deal with the subject of urban dichotomy in a wider context of cultural theory, history and anthropology. In this sense the title is an expression with which we can cover not only the whole of urban culture, but also critically hints as to how our present humanities describe this cultural history of man.

Basically, the urban worldview is a product of urban historical methods supported essentially by urban history. Quantitatively and spatially (or geographically) the urban nuclear areas are only a fragment of the rural conditions spread over the habitable zones of the world. But this fragmentary urban population projects and diffuses its own values over wider rural areas under its control. This is valid on the level of individual cities, as well as capitals and their national domains. What would happen if we became aware that urban values are methodologically conditioned? Using anthropological methods against the narrow urban historisms, wouId we discover the virtual constructs with which urban values are kept up?

Maybe we should add some notes on the word dichotomy here. It implies or designates a division into two opposing groups or parts. The focus is on the antagonistic or complementary relation. A framing unit is implied. Thus the word has a methodological aspect. The view is not focussed analytically on the city or the rural condition, but on the relational aspect, the opposites, complementaries, mutual conditioning. Temporally the expression "urban rural dichotomy" covers the whole history of the city.

The term rural is taken in the widest sense as the non urban geography past and present. Tribal societies and the world of agrarian villages as we know them from ethnology or folklore, are included as well as, throughout history, those human settlements that were eccentric in regard to urban nuclei, and formed the non urban geography of early and later empires until today.

It is evident, that the term rural covers an enormous surface of the globe, past and present. Quantatively the rural population was always and still is the large majority of the world's population. The urban mentality always considered its own culture as higher, and saw the rural as human resource for its own goals. This reflects also in science. Folklore studies are not considered as important in the domain of present-day humanities. The ethnologist's interests are still considered close to exotic, not relevant to our own worldview! This apriori value element is also seen in methods and results.

In other words, the urban view uses apriori its own structure, its own disciplines which it projects on the rural. Evidently the rural is different. But the urban system interprets these differences in the sense of progressive developments, thus they appear as primary, resp. simple, resp. unevolved, thus of less value.

Evidently there is something wrong here. Science by definition should not operate with values. Its "objects" should be dealt with "objectively". Value-judgements are illegitimate.

The following scheme (Fig. 1) lists the conventional sequence of urban history with cultural periods (white rectangles) and black arrows.

Fig. 1

The rural component supporting urban history in each phase (grey rectangles) is basically neglected. However, the cultural ethno-(pre-) history used here as a method takes the rural basis of each phase into consideration. This corresponds to newer trends in history to relate historical sources to their tectonic and geographic environment. In these books, mostly geographical atlases and maps are used, indicating the territorial and geographical components of history. Historians have used similar methods e.g. in European Middle Ages calling their approach "history from below". But the method was, as far as I know, not applied systematically in the cross cultural or anthropological context. Note that the "structural history" used here is described in Wernhart 1981. In this short paper we will concentrate on the first stage of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (1) which is most important as a transitional field between rural and urban, but the dichotomies of the later phases are similar. However with increasing importance of script, the interurban diffusion increases, the cultural relations with the rural are devalued and are thus decreasing.

It is evident, if we use the anthropological method in its widest sense, that is, related to man's past and present, the historic view becomes too narrow. It always remains within a cultural domain formed by its urban history. It is definitely urbanely ethnocentric. The anthropological outlook questions this view. Not only for its ethnocentrism, but also in regard to its discontinuous interpretation of early sources.

In the following we will discuss these two worldviews, the urban and the rural as a dichotomy by showing their essential structural differences.


Fig. 2a (upper part of following plate) shows three phases of our discussion. In a first step [A] we will outline basic characteristics of the urban world view, past and present. These characteristics are then [B] contrasted with basic characteristics of the rural worldview, pre- and para-urban. Finally, in a third step (C) indicators are mentioned which make it plausible that the urban characteristics had developed originally from rural conditions.

Fig. 2a (upper part) and 2b (lower part)

Fig. 2b (lower and main part of plate) lists in columns of 'urban' and 'rural' seven criteria (1 - 7) and the way they are interpreted in the urban and rural domains. The titles of the discussions will follow the numbers of the listed criteria.

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