Civics: as Applied Sociology/Part 2/B—Initial Methods of Concrete Survey

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Hence our civic studies began (vol. 1, p. 105) with the survey of a valley region inhabited by its characteristic types—hunter and shepherd, peasant and fisher—each on his own level, each evolving or degenerating within his own region. Hence the concrete picture of such a typical valley section with its types of occupation cannot be brought too clearly before our minds.[3]

What now of the causes of progress or decay? Are not these first of all the qualities and defects inherent in that particular social formation?—though we must also consider how these different types act and react, how they combine with, transform, subjugate, ruin or replace each other in region after region. We thus re-interpret the vicissitudes of history in more general terms, those of the differentiation, progress or degeneracy of each occupational and social type, and the ascending and descending oscillations of these types. In short, these occupational struggles underlie and largely interpret even the conflict of races, upon which Mr. Stuart-Glennie and other sociologists have so ably insisted. The fundamental importance of these initial factors of region and occupation to all studies of races and types, of communities and institutions, of customs and laws, indeed of language and literature, of religion and art, even of ideals and individualities, must be my excuse if I seem to insist, in season and out of season, upon the services of Le Play as one of the main founders of sociology; and this not only (a) on account of his monographic surveys of modern industrial life—those "Monographies Sociales" from which our current economic studies of the condition of the worker, of the family budget, etc., descend—but (b) yet more on account of his vital reconstruction of anthropology (albeit still far from adequately realised by most anthropologists) through his renewed insistence upon the elemental rustic origins of industry, family types, and social organisation alike, from these simplest reactions of man in his struggle for existence in varied and varying environment.

It does not suffice to recognise, with many economists, hunting, pastoral and agricultural formations, as states preliminary to our present industrial and commercial, imperial, and financial order of civilisation. This view, still too commonly surviving, is rather of hindrance than help; what we need is to see our existing civilisation as the complex struggle and resultant of all these types and their developments to-day. So far, therefore, from leaving, as at present, these simple occupational types to the anthropologist, or at best giving him some scant hospitality within our city museum, we are learning to see how it is at one time the eager miner, or the conservative shepherd, or at another the adventurous fisher or hunter who comes concretely upon the first plane of national, imperial or international politics, and who awakens new strife among these. We not only begin to see, but the soldier frankly tells us, how the current sports of youth, and the unprecedented militarism of the past century, are alike profoundly connected with the hunting world. Hence the hope of peace lies not only, as most at present think in the civilised and civilising development of international law, or of culture intercourse, excellent though these are, but also in a fuller and complete return to nature than has been this recent and persistent obsession of our governing classes with the hunter world almost alone; in short, in adding the gentler, yet wider, experiences of the naturalist, the sterner experiences of other occupations also. Nor does such elementary recognition of these main social formations content us; their local differentiations must be noted and compared—a comprehensive regional survey, therefore, which does justice to each local variety of these great types; speaking henceforth of no mere abstract "hunter," but of the specific hunting types of each climate, and distinguishing these as clearly as do our own milder sportsmen of deer-forest and the turnip field from themselves and from each other. After such needed surveys in detail, we may, indeed must, compare and generalise them.

Similarly for the pasture, the forest. Every tourist in this country is struck by the contrast of Swiss towns and cities with our own, and notes too that on the Swiss pasture he finds a horde of cattle, while in Scotland or Yorkshire he left a flock of sheep. And not only the tourist, but the historian or the economist too often fail to see how Galashiels or Bradford are developments of the wool hamlet, now familiar to many in R.L. Stevenson's native Swanston. Again, not only Swiss wealth, but Swiss character and institutions, go back essentially to the high pasture and the well-filled byre. That this rich Swiss cow-pasture rests on limestone, and the poor Scottish sheep-grazing upon comparatively unmouldering and impermeable gneiss, is no mere matter of geologist's detail; it affords in each case the literal and concrete foundation-stone of the subsequent evolution of each region and population, and this not only in material and economic development, but even in higher and subtler outcomes, aesthetic, intellectual and moral.[4] It is for such reasons that one must labour and re-labour this geographic and determinist aspect of sociology, and this for no merely scientific reason, but also for practical ones. Nowhere perhaps have more good and generous souls considered how to better the condition of their people than in Swiss, or Irish, or Scottish valleys; yet it is one main reason of the continual failure of all such movements, and of such minds in the wider world as well, that they do not first acquaint themselves with the realities of nature and labour sufficiently to appreciate that the fundamental—I do not say the supreme—question is: what can be got out of limestone, and what can be got out of gneiss? Hence the rare educative value of such a concrete sociological diagram and model as was the Swiss Village at the Paris Exposition of 1900, for here geographic and economic knowledge and insight were expressed with artistic skill and sympathy as perhaps never before. Only as similar object-lessons are worked out for other countries, can we adequately learn, much less popularly teach, how from nature comes "rustics," and from this comes civics. But civics and rustics make up the field of politics; they are the concrete of which politics become the abstract—commonly the too remotely abstract.

For final illustration, let us descend to the sea-level. There again, taking the fisher, each regional type must be traced in his contribution to his town. Take for instance the salmon fisher of Norway, the whaler of Dundee, the herring-fisher of Yarmouth, the cod-fisher of Newfoundland, the coral fisher of the Ægean; each is a definite varietal type, one developing or at least tending to develop characteristic normal family relations, and corresponding social outcomes in institutions; in which again the appropriate qualities and defects must be expressed, even as is the quality and twist of the hemp in the strength of the cable, or as is the chemistry and the microscopic structure of the alloy in the efficiency of the great gun. Our neighbouring learned societies and museums geographical, geological and the rest, are thus avowedly and consciously so many winter shelters in which respective groups of regional surveyors tell their tales and compare their observations, in which they meet to compare their generalisations from their own observations made in the field with those made by others. So it must increasingly be for this youngest of societies. We may, we should, know best our Thames valley, our London basin, our London survey; but the progress of our science implies as increasingly varied and thorough an inquiry into rustic and civic regions and occupations and resultants throughout the whole world present and past, as does the corresponding world survey with our geologic neighbours.

I plead then for a sociological survey, rustic and civic, region by region, and insist in the first place upon the same itinerant field methods of notebook and camera, even for museum collections and the rest, as those of the natural sciences. The dreary manuals which have too long discredited those sciences in our schools, are now giving place to a new and fascinating literature of first-hand nature study. Similarly, those too abstract manuals of civics which are at present employed in schools[5] must be replaced by concrete and regional ones, their abstract counsels of political or personal perfection thus also giving place to a corresponding regional idealism which may then be supplemented from other regions as far as needs demand and circumstances allow.