Reconceptualizing the ‘Village’
I recently read an older article, Rigg (1994), that was very enlightening. Rigg confronts the mischaracterization of ‘village’ by appealing to evidence that such a construct is falsely created and thus drives development towards a false standard of measurement. ‘Village’ has been romanticized by many writers, and has created polarized views “of rural life which is somewhat divorced from reality” (p. 124). He addresses specific mischaracterizations such as egalitarianism, and shows how ‘traditional villages’ were very much engrained with hierarchies of power and influence in which labor was used and incorporated into production activities for export. Rigg also addresses the corporate village fallacy and shows how shared labor activities, and other examples, point towards self-interest rather than selfless acts of redistribution to impoverished members of the community. “Relations of mutual help and assistance are not necessarily indicative of a moral economy. Indeed…they may merely be mystifications of exploitation” (p. 127). Thirdly, the autonomous and self-reliant village fallacy is taken up, showing how there are links to export markets very early on. And finally, Rigg addresses the colonial origins of a village. Rather than being a self–induced regional organizing method of a local population, a village is seen as being a state/colonial method to observe populations, imposing control, and facilitating the extraction of surplus labor and production. Therefore, the ‘village’ may have been ‘arbitrarily imposed’ as “the colonial state found that it was necessary spatially and administratively to define villages in order to control the population and then be in a position to extract surplus from them” (p. 129). With these critiques of ‘village’, Rigg posits that development practitioners need to be aware of false characterizations that do an injustice to current development practice and limit potential outcomes for moving forward. Commercialization of local products and labor being integrated into global markets are “not a case of new technologies operating on a tabula rasa and creating class structures, but rather of ‘capitalism’ building upon structures that already exist” (p. 131). With this new view, then, development can properly move forward by ‘conceptualizing new ways of ‘doing’ development’ while avoiding false images of past/present and “misinterpretation[s] of history” (p.131).
Rigg, J. (1994). Redefining the village and rural life: Lessons from South East Asia. Geographical Journal, 123-135.