Rural-Urban Continuum: The Concept

Rural- urban continuum is  the merging of town and village.The concept is a term used in recognition of the fact that there is rarely, either physically or socially, a sharp division, a clearly marked boundary between the two, with one part of the population wholly urban, the other wholly rural.

The term was given by Robert Redfield (1930). He made an important contribution to develop the concept of folk, rural and urban continuum. He has constructed a continuum from small rural villages to large cities. More urban means that population is more secular, more individualistic and with a greater division of labour.

The characteristics of these two modes of living are represented by two concepts namely ‘ruralism’ and ‘urbanism.’ Ruralism signifies the rural mode of living in which there is predominance of traditions, customs, and folk culture and joint family. On the other hand, urbanism signifies the urban mode of living in which there is predominance of impersonal relations, individualism and secondary associations. Urban way of life is becoming more predominant day by day.There is also a danger of increasing slums with increasing urbanization as big cities are expanding fast. There is a danger of urban realm turning in slum according to trends.

The rural social world is different from the urban social world. There is a valid distinction between village and city in terms of two different ways of life, cultural patterns, socio-cultural groupings and modes of earning and livelihood. The village is considered a basic unit of settlement. It doesn’t mean that urban systems are not basic.

However, there are also structural similarities between the two with regard to the patterns of caste, kinship, rules of marriages, observance of religious practices, migrations, educational institutions, employment opportunities and administration are the other institutional sources of linkages between villages and cities. Education, for example is becoming transnational in nature as we are moving towards a knowledge society. We have come a long way from Guru Shishya Parampara days.  Thus, villages and towns cannot be seen simply as dichotomous entities. They are interlinked and yet distinct from each other.

The continuum theory lays emphasis on the rural-urban differences rather than on the rural-urban dichotomy. Irrespective of the course of evolution, distinction can be drawn between rural and urban way of life.

The difference between urban centres and rural areas may seem so obvious that the definitions should not be an issue. However, there can be major variations in the ways in which different nations define what is an urban centre. The criteria used include population size and density, and the availability of services such as the secondary schools, hospitals and banks.

However, the combination of criteria applied can vary greatly. Even the population thresholds used can be different: for many African nations, it is 5,000 inhabitants, while for most Latin American and European nations, it can be as low as 2,000 or 2,500, or even just a few hundred inhabitants.

This wide fluctuation in definitions has three important implications:

i. Official classifications should be treated with caution—for example, a large proportion of settlements classed as ‘rural’ in China and India would fall within the ‘urban’ category, if they used the criteria and population thresholds adopted by many other countries. Given the size of the population of these two countries, this would sig­nificantly increase the overall proportion of urban residents in Asia and in the world. The definitions vary.

ii. International comparisons are difficult, as they may look at settlements which, despite being classed in the same category, may be very different in both population size and infrastructure. In addition, the reliability of data is an issue. Data on urbanisation can be misleading.

iii. Public investment in services and infrastructure tends to concentrate on the centres that are defined as urban. As a consequence, investment can bypass settlements not defined as urban even if these can, and often do, have an important ‘urban role in the development of the surrounding rural areas. Within national and regional urban systems, larger cities also tend to be favoured with public investment over small- and intermediate-sized urban centres, including those with important roles in supporting agricultural production, processing and marketing.

In terms of ethos of life, cultural groupings and modes of living, village and city are  somewhat distinct from each other. They appear as dichotomous entities. But structural similarities still exist between the two in regard to patterns of caste, rules of marriage and observance of religious practices.

Villages and cities are not absolute units. Administration, education, employment and migration are institutional sources of linkage between the village and the city. In regard to rural-urban continuum social thinkers have differing views.

A number of Social Scientists think  that it is difficult to distinguish between rural and urban areas particularly in countries where education is universal .

On the other hand, many Social Scientists have mentioned heterogeneity, impersonal relations, anonymity, division of labour, mobility, class difference, employment patterns, secularism, urban and rural poverty etc. as the items to be the basis for distinguishing ruralism from urbanism. They maintain that rural and urban are two dichotomous terms which are differentiated on the basis of above criteria.

Variation in size and density of population at least have certain effects in respect of (i) anonymity, (ii) division of labour, (iii) heterogeneity, induced and maintained by anonymity and division of labour, (iv) impersonal and formally prescribed relationships, and (v) symbols of status which are independent of personal acquaintance.

Culture can enlarge or reduce the impact of these items but it cannot eliminate them from the city. Richard Dewey thus rightly pointed out that these five elements are inevitable accompaniments of urbanization and must be taken into consideration in understanding it.

But there are some Social Scientists who still believe that urban ways of life are penetrating into the rural areas and it might be difficult to draw a line between the two. In a village where the inhabitants walk, talk, dress and otherwise deport themselves like urbanites, it is difficult to say whether it is a rural or urban community.

There are different types of settlements on different points of this continuum.

Rural-Urban Fringe

 The rural–urban fringe, also known as the outskirts, rurban, peri-urban or the urban hinterland, can be described as the “landscape interface between town and country”,or also as the transition zone where urban and rural uses mix and often clash. Alternatively, it can be viewed as a landscape type in its own right, one forged from an interaction of urban and rural land uses.


A suburb is a mixed-use or residential area, existing either as part of a city or urban area or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city.  In some areas, such as Australia, India, China, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and a few U.S. states, new suburbs are routinely annexed by adjacent cities. In others, such as Saudi Arabia, Canada, France, and much of the United States, many suburbs remain separate municipalities or are governed as part of a larger local government area such as a county.


Umland is an area linked socially and economically to an urban settlement. Literally it means ‘around area’. It is also called ‘ sphere of influence’ . This term is generally this term is applied for inland towns that deals in all directions.

This term was used in geographical perspective for the first time by Ander Allix ,French geographer in 1914 to express his concept of economic domain meaning thereby the areas immediately an interior city.


According to Collins (Dictionary)the region outside the suburbs of a city, consisting of residentialareas (exurbs) that are occupied predominantly by rich commuters(exurbanites).


The word rurban (rural+urban) refers to a geographic territory /landscape which possess the economic characteristics and lifestyles of an urban area while retaining its essential rural area features.

Sorokin in his Rural-Urban Sociology (1929), uses the word “rurbanization” which according to him is a terminological invention of C. J. Galpin in 1918. Parson in 1949 exposed the idea of “rurbanisation” in his book – Essays in Sociological Theory. According to him, Rurban communities are the rural socio- geographic spaces where styles of life and the standard of living have changed so much that they resemble those in urban localities (Parsons, 1949, p. 435).

Rurbanisation may be due to either urban expansion or rural migration. This change is made possible through urban – rural interactions, including accumulation of capital /remittances and exposure to western /modern ideas and lifestyles that eventually build new mindsets.

Source(s) and Link(s)



The Rural Urban Continuum

Para Culture


About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
This entry was posted in Class Notes, earth, Rural, Urban Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rural-Urban Continuum: The Concept

  1. Pingback: Settlement Planning: An Overview | Rashid's Blog: An Educational Portal

  2. Dr.Ashwini says:

    wonderfully explained the concept of Rural Urban Continuum ,THANK YOU SIR


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