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Functional and Historical Explanations for Village Social Organization in Northern Europe

Robert Layton
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Vol. 1, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 703-723
DOI: 10.2307/3034957
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3034957
Page Count: 21
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Functional and Historical Explanations for Village Social Organization in Northern Europe
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Abstract

Villages in Switzerland and a neighbouring region of eastern France have a degree of political coherence and autonomy which contrasts strikingly with the weak political organization of English villages. The Roman historian Tacitus described a number of customs among the Germanic peoples living on the edge of the Roman Empire which can be paralleled in the medieval and recent rural cultures of Switzerland and eastern France where, for many centuries, they have enabled the co-operative management of resources. While similar customs existed in England during earlier centuries, the English village today has little or no corporate identity. The article critically assesses the probability of real historical continuity in France and asks why such customs have disappeared in England. Some general conclusions are drawn about the relative value of functional and historical explanations in social anthropology.

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