Into the West – Romanticism in Irish rural sociology

Romanticism in rural sociology stems, in many ways, from the cultural idealism which the rural has had lumbered upon it. This essay attempts to outline the impact of this idealism on the sociological view of the rural, the prevalence of romanticism with regard to rurality, and to illustrate attempts to negate this romanticism. I hope to show that romantic Ireland, far from being dead and gone, is a fiction firmly lodged in the modern mindset and in sociological frameworks.

The rural has not always been romanticised by any means. In fact, Karl Marx pitied those forced to live in the “idiocy of rural life”(Slater, 1995:5). In fact it would be safe to conjecture that romanticism in the form that plagues rural sociology is traceable only post-eighteenth century, where the ideological revolution against the regulations of the Enlightenment led to the proposition that Arcadia was centred in the simplistic, virtuistic countryside. Suddenly the Industrial Revolution was being challenged by “the romantic version of rural life” which “defined it as being more profound and fulfilling than urban life, and more harmonious and virtuous”(Slater, 1995:2). The poets of the Lake District were illustrating the Zeitgeist when they lost themselves in the poetic bosom of the country. The desire of this period to study other cultures led to a veritable barrage of literary texts examining the “Other”, such as Kipling’s “Kim” and Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. Even Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, while clearly describing fictitious lands, was playing into the hands of those fascinated by “the Other” and clearly recognised that “Their time is not Our time, and Their space is not Our space”(Peace, 1987:94). Soon there was a general mourning for the loss of Durkheimian mechanical solidarity through spiraling urbanisation, while the work of Tonnies began to be misrepresented so as the rural was positively teeming with Gemeinschaft relationships (Slater, 1995: 7). This led to the creation of a rural pedestal that the modern tourist still attempts to gaze upon. Continue reading “Into the West – Romanticism in Irish rural sociology”