Urbanization of Rural Recreation
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 Material Information
Title: Urbanization of Rural Recreation
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Full Text

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In this concluding chapter I wish to briefly summarize

the important trends in rural recreation and to present a summary

analysis of the process of urbanization as related to these trends.


The important changes in rural recreation may be summar-

ized under three headings: (1) the conditions imposed on rural

recreation by the nature of farm work are a little less restrict-

ive than formerly. (2) Improved communication has overcome, to a

considerable degree, the limitations imposed on recreational org-

anization by the sparsity of population. And (3) a beginning has

been made in the development of an autonomous recreational organ-


(1) The use of rural leisure has been considerably re-

stricted by the conditions of farm work. The length of the work-

ing day has reduced the amount of leisure and the fatigue from

long hours has discouraged recreational activity at the end of

the day. Furthermore, leisure has been more or less irregular

and unpredictable, both because of the seasonal character of agri-

cultural production and because of other less important interrup-

tions to farm work. It has also been difficult for the farmer or

his family to get away from the farm for more than a few hours at

a time because of the care of live stock.

The introduction of machinery has in all probability re-

duced fatigue somewhat, but it does not appear that the amount of

leisure has been noticeably increased, for the time-saving has

been applied mainly to increasing production. The increased use



of mechanical power is also reducing somewhat the importance of

the care of stock as a restriction on the use of leisure. Agri-

culture still remains a seasonal occupation with the periods of

maximum leisure only roughly predictable, and with the periods of

maximum leisure falling in the seasons least favorable for rec-

reation. It is more than likely, however, that many of these re-

strictions imposed by the nature of farm work, particularly the

length of the working day and the use of animals for power, are

as much customary as inherent in agriculture, and being customary

are in the slow process of being modified.

(2) The primary effect of the sparsity of population has

been to prevent recreational specialization, two aspects of which

may be noted particularly.

First, association for rural recreation has been based

upon common residence rather than upon common interest or common

status as in the city. So few people have been within the area

of frequent contact that all persons living within this area nave

normally constituted a single recreational group. The family and

the neighborhood thus became the important recreational units,

since these have defined the important areas of contact in the

rural community.

Secondly, the sparsity of population and the consequent

infrequency of association made recreation more or less of a by-

product of the other social activities of the community. Every

occasion for association became an occasion for recreation. Thus,

various forms of cooperative labor--the construction of buildings,

corn-husking, harvesting, candle-making, quilting; activities as-

sociated with the religious life of the community--church attend-

ance, special meetings and programs, and incidental activities

such as church suppers; certain of the educational activities of

the community--"exercises," spelling-bees, box-suppers for rais-

ing money, all came to be of as much significance for recreation

as for the ostensible primary purpose. On the other hand, there

was little recreation that was independent of these other activi-

ties, practically all recreation being found as an incident to

these non-recreational activities.

The most important changes in rural recreation fall in

this class of phenomena. The family and the neighborhood are no

longer as important as formerly as bases of recreational associa-

tion; mere nearness is tending to become less important and com-

mon interest and common status are tending to become more import-

ant. This is not to be interpreted to mean that the family and

the neighborhood are no longer important, but simply that they

are becoming less important.

Similarly, the recreation aspects of non-recreation ac-

tivities are disappearing. The recreational by-products of the

economic life of the community--husking-bees, house-raisings, log-

rollings, barn-raisings, quilting-bees, candle-dippings, etc.--

have completely disappeared in all but the more isolated communi-

ties. Concrete evidence showing the decline in the recreational

importance of the church is difficult to find, but general obser-

vation indicates that the church is much less important recrea-

tionally than it once was. The school is still important in rec-

reation. Or perhaps we should say that it is again important.

For the recreational significance of the rural school today is in

the new activities that have grown up around the consolidated

school, and these represent not so much the survival of the ac-

tivities of the old district school as the development of new ac-

tivities borrowed more or less directly from the recreational ac-

tivities of urban schools. Non-recreational organizations con-

tinue to furnish an important share of the recreational opportuni-

ties of the rural community. But here also the question of the

survival of rural features may be questioned since so many of the

rural organizations of today--the agricultural clubs, the cooper-

ative organizations, etc.--suggest the development of clubs and

organizations, or, on the other hand, by way of adjustment to new

conditions created by contact with cities. Such traditional org-

anizations as the lodges seem to be declining in importance.

(3) The third trend noted was that toward specialization

in recreation. In a sense this is simply the correlative of the

preceding, the separation of recreation from other community ac-

tivities may be said to be a form of specialization. But it must

be noted that the mere loss of the recreational functions of eco-

nomic life, and of the church and the school, is no guarantee that

these functions will continue independently. A most important

point to be noted is that the disappearance of traditional rural

recreations and traditional organization for recreation has pro-

ceeded at a much more rapid rate than has the development of new

recreations and new recreational organization.

But a beginning has been made in the development of inde-

pendent recreational organization: the private recreational clubs,

commercial amusements, and public recreation. It may be said that

there has been little development of the first and the last of

these in the rural community, although attention may be called to

the development of the rural community building as a qaecial phase

of the development of public recreational facilities. But the

movie and the radio have brought commercial recreation into rural

life. These facilities are not yet as widespread among rural

people as among city people, but they are sufficiently widespread

to have become a very important factor in rural recreation.

The rural recreational situation may be characterized very

briefly, then, by saying: (1) the limitations imposed by the

nature of farm work are still very important, but somewhat less

important than formerly; (2) there has been a very extensive

loss of traditional rural recreations which have in general been

characterized as by-products of other social activities; and (3)

the development of independent recreational interests has lagged

far behind the loss cf the older forms of recreation, although

the development of the radio and the motion picture theater have

been very important.



Now it seems to me that the common denominator of these

trends is a growing similarity to the recreational life of the

city. Certainly the restrictions imposed on recreation by the

nature of the economic life of the community are much less import-

ant in the city than in the country. It is true that the tradi-

tional hours during which city men and women work have thrown

recreation into the afternoon and evening hours, and the tradi-

tional length of the working day has limited the amount of lei-

sure. Also it may be said that the nature of urban work has been

such as to direct the use of leisure toward relaxation rather

than toward rest. But accepting these qualifications, it does

seem that recreation in the city is relatively free from restric-

tions imposed by the work-life of the city. So, the suggestion

that rural recreation shows a tendency to escape in some slight

degree these restrictions indicates to that degree the lessening

of the difference between rural and urban recreation.

Secondly, urban recreation is relatively independent of

the restrictions imposed on rural recreation by virtue of the


limitation on the number of social contacts. Recreational asso-

ciates are not chosen in the city on the basis of nearness, ex-

cept in the case of the play-groups of the smaller children, and

even here, the number of children is ordinarily sufficient to

make possible differentiation on the basis of age, sex, common

interests, and common likes and dislikes. In so far as the devel-

opment of transportation reduces the importance of mere nearness

in the formation of recreational groups, rural recreation again

becomes more like urban recreation.

In the third place, recreation in the city is relatively

independent of the other activities of the community. Recreation

is secured, not as a by-product of some other activity, but direct-

ly as an independent activity. This characteristic difference

between city and country has disappeared to a considerable degree,

although the independent development of recreation has only just

begun in the rural community.

I do not wish to over-emphasize the similarity between

rural and urban recreation, because I am still impressed by the

importance of the differences. But it does seem to me that recent

trends in rural recreation indicate that the dissimilarities are

disappearing and that these trends are such as to warrant the pre-

diction that the future will see a much more extensive similarity

between these two phases of culture.

Now the problem arises; Is there any causal connection

between the growth of cities and the growing similarity between

rural and urban recreation?


In a general way, the term "urbanization" implies simply

a tendency for rural culture to become like urban culture. It is

possible that this growing similarity is nothing more than the

chance convergence of two more or less independent cultural sys-

tems. But, on the other hand, there are so many connections be-

tween the life of the city and the life of the country that this

possibility is rather remote. It is the assumption of this dis-

sertation that the more important changes in rural recreation are

closely, although for the most part indirectly, related to the

culture that has thus far been characteristic only of the cities.

There are several instances of more or less direct trans-

ference of urban recreational patterns to rural communities. In

connection with the consolidation of rural schools, itself an in-

stance of direct diffusion, organized athletics, dramatic activi-

ties, school orchestras and bands, and similar activities have

been introduced into the rural community. The community use of

schools was of urban origin and was introduced into the rural

community directly from the city. A few urban organizations have

extended their activities to rural communities without any exten-

sive modification of their programs--luncheon clubs, the Boy Scouts,

the Young Men's and the Young Women's Christian Associations. In

the field of commercial recreation, the motion picture and the

radio are important instances of the direct diffusion of urban

recreational devices to the country. Yet these several instances

of direct diffusion are of secondary importance, with the excep-

tion of the motion picture and the radio, when viewed from the

standpoint of the total recreational life of the rural community.

It appears that the urbanization of rural recreation is

something more complex than the simple diffusion of traits of the

urban culture. To understand properly the process it is necessary

to refer to the essential unity of any culture. A culture does

not consist simply of a sum of cultural traits, but of traits so

interrelated that, taken together, they form a unity. Each trait


tends to undergo modification until it is more or less consistent

with the other traits of the culture. In a static society, it is

conceivable that a state of equilibrium would eventually be reach-

ed in which each trait would have reached an optimum adjustment

to every other trait and in which, consequently, cultural change

would cease. But so long as there is contact with another culture,

the introduction of new traits and the tendency to make adjust-

ments at the points of cultural contact precipitate long series

of adaptive changes in the other traits of the culture.

The process of the urbanization of rural recreation is

conceived here as being primarily in the nature of changes in

rural recreation by way of adaptation to other traits in the

rural culture. There are two types of changes that seem to have

been important in bringing about these adaptive changes in rec-

reation. (1) Many changes in the non-recreational departments

of rural culture are the direct results of the diffusion of urban

traits. The most important of these changes, so far as recreation

is concerned, are associated with the substitution of factory-

made products for home-made products. The substitution of kero-

sene for candles for illumination is the essential explanation of

the disappearance of candle-diprings as a form of recreation, of

blankets and other manufactured bed-clothing for quilts of the

disappearance of quilting-bees and piecing bees, of sawn-lumber

and other fabricated building materials for logs of the disappear-

ance of log-rollings and house- and barn-raisings, of "store-rugs"

for rag-rugs of the disappearance of sewing-bees. In other words

the disappearance of many traditional forms of recreation in rural

communities is to be explained not in terms of their displacement

by competing urban amusements, but in terms of adjustments to

other departments of rural culture which are traceable to the dif-

fusion of urban cultural traits.

(2) But other changes are due to the fact that certain

forces that have been felt only in cities for many years past are

now beginning to be felt in the country, with the result that

changes are occurring in rural life similar to those that develop-

ed long ago in urban life. Two such forces seem to be particular-

ly important--the multiplication of social contacts and the appli-

cation of power machinery to production.

Attention has already been called to the conditioning of

rural recreation by the sparsity of population, i.e., of the lim-

itation on the number and variety of social contacts. This limi-

tation has made association on a territorial basis particularly

important and has restricted the development of specialized rec-

reational organization. This limitation has been removed in the

city because of the concentration'of population. So many persons

are within the area of frequent contact that it would be impossi-

ble to include every individual in one's recreational associations,

with the result that there has been selection on the basis of

common interest, common status, or other common characteristic

This limitation is in the process of removal in the country through

the improvement of communication and transportation. Particular-

ly through the telephone, the automobile, and the improved road

is the rural dweller having his range of effective social contact

extended, with the result that the limitation on specialization

of recreational association is being weakened. So also, the de-

clining importance of the family and the neighborhood and the

tendency to separate recreation from the other activities of the

community are due in large measure to this multiplication of so-

cial contacts.

The application of elaborate machinery, particularly that


operated by mechanical power, to the processes of production was

accomplished a century or more earlier in the city than in the

country. It is only just now that farm production is being seri-

ously modified by the use of elaborate machinery and by the use

of mechanical power. But as this factor is becoming more import-

ant in rural life, changes are being brought about in the country

similar to these that occurred in the city. We may note several

effects with particular referer.e to recreation. Perhaps the most

important is the transition from an economy based upon the con-

sumption of one's own produce to an economy based upon exchange.

The very fact of the use of farm machinery implies production for

exchange, for machinery cannot be produced on the farm--it can

only be secured through the production of goods which can be ex-

changed for machinery. Furthermore, the use of machinery so in-

creases the efficiency of farm labor that a considerable surplus

over and above the farm family's needs is produced, the only val-

ue of which is in exchange for other products. And, as indicated,

the development of an exchange economy makes possible the purchase

of recreational equipment, the development of commercial recrea-

tion, and similar recreational developments, the means for which

cannot be produced on the farm. The amount and the regularity of,

leisure has been increased somewhat through the use of machinery,

although this effect is almost negligible when compared with the

gains of urban workers. Perhaps more important is the lessening

of fatigue, and possibly a shift in leisure needs from the need

for physical rest to a need for relaxation. But again, it is

easy to mistake the possibility for the reality, for it is not

likely that great gains in these respects have been made yet. It

is sufficient, however, to indicate that a factor, long felt in

the city, is now beginning to be felt in the country, and changes

in recreation, similar to those that have characterized the devel-

opment of urban recreation, are now beginning to appear in the


By way of general summary, it may be said that many tradi-

tional rural recreations have disappeared or are disappearing;

that the traditional bases for the organization of rural recrea-

tion are being modified; and that these changes are reducing the

dissimilarities between rural and urban recreational culture and

increasing the similarities, although the differences are still

more striking than the similarities. It is probable that this

growing similarity is directly related to the growth of cities,

either directly through the diffusion of urban recreations, or

indirectly through changes in rural recreation by way of adapta-

tion to non-recreational traits that have been borrowed from the

city and through adaptation to forces that were once peculiar to

urban life but which now appear in rural life.

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