The Study of Rural Communities in Quebec: From the "folk society" Monographic Approach to the Recent Revival of Community as Place-based Rural Development

Bruno Jean

Abstract


The intellectual history of social sciences in Quebec reflects an in-depth
community-focused monographic approach. This research model created a
conception of rural Quebec as a collection of communities best described as folk societies. It also reinforced a social and scientific representation of rural Quebec as traditional, backwards and conservative. This intellectual history culminated in the work of Horace Miner, a student of the well known American anthropologist Robert Redfield. In Miner’s 1939 thesis Saint-Denis : A French-Canadian Parish, the community of Saint-Denis is presented as a prime example of a folk society. A few years later, Everett C. Hugues, also from the Chicago school of thought, came to Quebec to study French Canada in transition. He completed an influential community study of the small booming town of Drummondville in the Eastern Townships.

In the 1950s, an indigenous social science took the lead in community studies, and created a conceptual model that portrayed rural communities as an expression of tradition. Since the Chicago school’s evolutionary paradigm conceived each society as moving from a traditional to a modern stage, rural societies would have no place within modern societies. This theoretical and conceptual incapacity to accept rurality in the modern or post-modern era is questionable, demonstrating the limits of this scientific paradigm to foster a greater understanding of rural social realities. Nonetheless, more optimistically, a new generation of Quebec rural historians are currently refashioning a different representation of the same rural Quebec. Instead of presenting these communities as conservative and static, they are now being portrayed as more open, adaptive, and creative, with a high level of individual migration. Communities are also shown to be proactive as they attempt to establish innovative institutional arrangements in the face of their specific economic and ecological opportunities and constraints.

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.

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