Kleine plattelandskernen in de Nederlandse samenleving : schaalvergroting en dorpsbinding

J.P. Groot

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The 'increase of scale' as a process of social change has a detrimental effect on many small communities in the country. The number of inhabitants in some hamlets, villages, country-towns and other small rural communities is decreasing; small communities have lost to some extent their function as trade centres. A lot of people living in many of these small country communities dislike this process of decline.

This study has been focused on a twofold problem:
1. What changes have taken place in the distribution of both population and provisions in the countryside during the last decades? Which factors have influenced this process?
2. What effect does the change in distribution of both population and provisions have on rural people? How do these people, particularly in small communities, react to this change and how can the way they react be explained?

Hence this study has two parts: Part I looks from the outside at the social forces that affect the development of cummunities. Part II discusses the social life within these rural communities that are under stress from the 'increase of scale'.

In Part I, processes of social change are considered that may be connected with the difficulties many small rural communities are facing. In the general concept of 'increase of scale' three aspects can be distinguished: physical, structural and mental. The increase of scale in the physical sense is defined as the increase in number of members of social units and the enlargement of spatial units (e.g. plots, number of buildings). With the increase of the structural scale both individuals and social units are involved in more embracing networks of interaction and communication. The increase of the mental scale includes changes in the culture of a historical-geographical group (e.g. village-community, city-community, national community) by which the affective ties of its members with the group as a whole diminish. Then the norms, expectations and values of the members change to those of the 'higher ranking' historical-geographical groups.

In this study the concept of the small rural community is defined as an aggregation of individuals who
a. live together in a centre of limited size or else both in a centre and on scattered holdings;
b. do not need to go to other places for at least a part of their daily necessities;
c. are characterized by a certain awareness of a collective identity that has resulted from their living together.

First some theoretical starting-points and concepts are discussed. Then the number and the geographical distribution of small rural communities, in the Netherlands as well as in other countries in Europe and in Northern America, are considered. The history of the patterns of villages and other rural communities is discussed in detail, particularly for the Netherlands. It was concluded that the degree of autonomy that a rural community had in the past was of great importance to its present social status. This applies not only to towns, but also to boroughs, villages, hamlets and so on.

Chapter 4 is devoted to population change of rural communities and how it can be influenced by community size, distance to an urban centre, the economic region in which the community is situated, relative size of population occupied in agriculture, type of farming area and level of retail and service facilities. For each of these factors data from the literature are discussed. Additional data are provided from an investigation into the development of size of Dutch rural communities. For this study, statistics were taken from the censuses held in 1947, 1956 and 1960. The results supported HART and SALISBURY (1965, p. 157) who came to the somewhat pessimistic conclusion that'population growth and decline, even in the village, is far too complex a phenomenon to permit of any simple explanation'. Moreover it appeared that a quantitative approach to the small rural community problem has to be characterized as partial, because it is mainly directed to the physical aspect of the increase of scale process.

The last chapter of Part I describes how small rural communities have developed to provide rural people with retail and service facilities. In particular, attention is paid to shopkeepers and artisans, primary schools, religious care, voluntary associations, government and other provisions. From the data it was concluded that in the Netherlands the geographical distribution of provisions has become concentrated at the expense of the small rural communities. However, there was a marked difference generally betweeen material provisions and social and cultural facilities. In small rural communities the latter, especially primary schools, were scarcely decreasing in number but there appeared to be an obvious concentration of most of the material provisions.

Part II also starts with theoretical reflections. Firstly, as small rural communities in the western World generally may be considered as social groups, it is suggested that when small rural communities lose some or all of their functions, their inhabitants usually value their living conditions negatively.

Secondly, attention is paid to the various ways small rural communities could react to a physical or structural increase of scale. With the help of literature, five states of reaction are described: a. social isolation, b. social tension, c. disorientation, d. integration, c. assimilation.

Thirdly, the concept of locality group identification (Dutch: dorpsbinding) is defined as the phenomenon by which people feel themselves emotionally tied to their local society. Locality group identification can only occur if the local society is symbolized by ail object of a material or non-material nature. This object must refer to the social life of the local community concerned. This concept of locality group identification explains to a great extent the way small rural communities are reacting to increase of scale.

Chapter 7 deals with the design of the investigation into the second part of the problem. Random samples of adolescents, and adults, both male and female, were interviewed by means of structured schedules. Then a short description is given of the four Dutch rural areas in which data were collected between 1963 and 1965 both by formal and informal interviews.

Chapter 9 contains a synopsis and comments of the informal interviews (about 150 in number) with key-persons in the four areas. After these interviews, the preliminary hypotheses made in Chapter 6 were reformulated. The definite hypotheses on the reaction of people living in small rural communities to increase of scale are as follows:
1 . In spite of the decline in retail and service facilities, people living in small rural communities value their living conditions positively.
2. Because many inhabitants of small rural communities identify themselves strongly with their local society:
a. they direct themselves to their own locality to a high degree, at least for their daily necessities,
b. they must act according to precise norms which means making as much use as possible of the provisions their community offers,
c. they have a limited social horizon.
3. The locality group identification is connected with a number of variables such as duration of living in the present place of residence, age, occupation, religious denomination and position held in the local leadership structure.

In Chapter 10 the hypothesis first mentioned is tested. In each rural area, 30 to 50 percent of the respondents living in small communities valued their living conditions negatively. There was an obvious connection between the evaluation of the living conditions and the degree of locality group identification. Therefore for rural people living in small communities the social relationships, especially those in their own local community, must be considered as more important for their welfare than providing them with goods and services.

Data taken from the formal interviews showed that in all of the small communities three quarters or more of the respondents identified themselves strongly with their local community. In contrast to hypothesis 2a, it appeared that in general only a week connection existed between a strong locality group identification and the direction of the respondents to their own locality to satisfy both material and non-material needs. At least in two of the areas concerned, there were rather precise norms in making use of the local provisions. The last part of hypothesis 2 was confirmed.

In Chapter 12 on the basis of the formal interview data the locality group identification is analysed further. The hypothesized connection between this phenomenon and many variables became evident. The results of investigating the connection between the degree of locality group identification and the position held in the local leadership structure were surprising. In one of the areas, local leaders had an obviously stronger locality group identification than their followers, whereas in another area in which also many of the respondents identified themselves strongly with the local community, the result was the reverse. Therefore locality group identification has to be considered a more central value in the former area than in the latter.

In my final remarks, I give my opinions on the significance of some findings to policy on rural physical planning.
Original languageDutch
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Hofstee, E.W., Promotor
Award date26 May 1972
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publication statusPublished - 1972


  • geography
  • netherlands
  • rural communities
  • rural settlement
  • sociology
  • villages

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