Definitions of Sociological Terms and Historical Development of Rural Sociology in Nigeria


Definitions of Sociological Terms and Historical Development of Rural Sociology in Nigeria

We looked at the concepts of sociology, rurality and rural sociology and itssignificance. In this article we are going to look at some basic terms used in rural sociology and its historical development.

This article will help you understand some basic terms often used in the field of sociology.

In this article, you should be able to define/describe some basic terms used in rural sociology and explain the historical development of rural sociology and the important events in the development of rural sociology.


Definitions/Description of Sociological Terms

At the introductory level in many universities in Nigeria in particular and in Africa in general many students of rural sociology have not had any previous important learning experience in the area of sociology. The aim of this is to enhance a basic understanding of the terms used in the discussion of sociology by experts in the field. 

Some of the terms are defined and described below.

1. Sociology

This is a discipline which refers to the systematic or scientific study of human society and social behaviour. It focuses on processes and patterns of organisation and conduct which are recurrent in society. It is the scientific study of the society.

2. Rural Sociology

It is the scientific study of rural life. It is the systematic body of knowledge which has resulted from the application of the scientific method to the study of the rural society, social processes, basic social systems, society organisation, institutions and group dynamics. 

It is a discipline which studies the influence of physical, biological and cultural factors on the sociology of groups of persons considered to be rural or non-urban. Rural sociology might be the sociology of rural life, environmental sociology or social ecology, the sociology of rural development.

3. Agricultural Sociology

It is the application of sociology to the agricultural profession. As the majority of those who are involved in agriculture live and work in the rural areas, agricultural sociology centres largely rely on the utilisation of rural sociological concepts. It is the scientific study of the social lives of people who are engaged in the agricultural occupation.

4. Rural

This is defined as remote area or place far away from the seat of government and having no verified nor infrastructural facilities, that is, the countryside and the people living in the villages (Mumdi 2006). It also refers to areas with low population density, small size, and relative isolation, where the major economic activity is largely agricultural production. The areas considered rural are the settlements that have between 100 and 200 households.

5. Culture

It is one of the characteristics of a society. It is a social phenomenon that is learned through the collective experiences of members of a society. Therefore, new members of a society are raised within the given culture and are thus different from members of other societies. What members of the society learn consists of the ways and means by which the groups deal with the basis and recurring facts of their existence. Culture is a social phenomenon which is learned through the collective exercise of members of a society from generation to generation through education and its special forms termed socialisation. Basic aspects of culture such as ideas, beliefs and values are abstract and are called non-material culture.

However, non-material cultures are reflected in tangible or material culture such as housing, clothing and technology.

6. Norms

Norms are the customary rules and behaviours established as standards for guiding a society. They are the rules which prescribe what is socially acceptable or unacceptable in any social system. Some norms may differ from one community to another, while others prevail all over the country.

Mores are customs or inventions which people regard as important for the welfare and stability of the society.

The violations of mores are viewed with more seriousness than the violations of norms.

A few examples of norms in the Nigerian society include the following:-

· It is customary in some communities that pregnant women should not go to the river in the afternoon or birth at night, or sit under the shade of tree, or see masquerade etc.

· Strangers especially in Hausaland and Igalaland cannot meet the Emirs and chiefs directly.

· In some parts of Hausaland, it is forbidden for a married woman to converse with another man other than her husband.

An understanding of these norms of the society is very crucial in the adoption of new changes by people or farmers.

7. Statuses and Roles

Status is a position in the system of social relationships. In rural communities social statuses include father, mother, rainmaker, diviner, councilor, patrilineal head, schoolteacher, course facilitator among others. Closely related to the concept of status is role.

A role is a set of expectations applied to an occupant of a status and is characterized by certain obligations (functions or duties) and privileges (rights). Sociologists often utilise the term status roles to indicate that both concepts are concomitant or simultaneous. An example is, a father (the status) provides the capital educational and security needs of his child (rights or privileges). The child on the other hand is expected to show some respect to the father, carry out some tasks for him and participate in farm work (obligations). The same person can have more than one status and play more than one set of roles.

8.  Values

These are standard views about what is acceptable, desirable and what should be, independent of the circumstance or specific situation. Values are generally derived from beliefs, which are convictions about the ways things are. They differ from norms, which are rules that control interrelationships. Among the rural Igala or Bassa-nge in Kogi State some cherished values include, respect for elders, hard work and respect for constituted premarital virginity among others.

9.  Beliefs

These are ideas held by members of a society to be true. That is, beliefs are the acceptance of any statement or idea as true or existing, regardless of whether they are in exact conformity with the existing standard or not. Beliefs differ from one community to another, but each of them holds fast to their own as the most perfect.

Examples of beliefs among some people in rural Nigeria include:

· A person sitting on a grinding stone will develop boils

· A hen that hatches just one chick will bring bad luck to the owner

· Putting food into mouth with a knife will result in a double row of teeth

· Beating a male child with a broom will make him impotent.

These are two kinds of beliefs:

(a) Superstitions: These are derived from ignorance or fear of the unknown. For example, among rural people sighting a giant rat, a nocturnal animal in day light portends the death of a family member; a child fed on egg will grow up a deviant (stealing).

(b) Taboos: These are practices or objects forbidden because of beliefs attached to them. For example, some animals such as snakes, fish, and civet cats are not eaten in different rural communities. Also,it is forbidden for any child to speak bad words against his parents.

10.  Power

It comprises influence and authority and it is the ability to influence or control the action of others in a social system. For example, the village head has a lot of influence and authority in his area of jurisdiction. He is the only one mandated by the people to enforce obedience into any member of the community that goes out of social order. The village subheads have power but no authority. They can influence the actions of other community members as well as that of the overall head of the house.

11. Boundary Maintenance

Is the process by which certain groups of people who are native to their registered domiciliary choose to maintain their identity within the larger group. They do this in order to preserve their cultural values and norms, so that they will not be submerged by the natives or the larger group in the community. For example, all the Sabon Gari area in the northern part of Nigeria is occupied by the Yoruba.

Similarly, all the Sabo areas in Yoruba land are occupied by the Hausa. This is done so that the people can preserve their cultural heritage and prevent it from being suppressed by the larger society. Inter-marriages between these two groups are not allowed, but as a result of civilisation, the situation is now gradually changing.

12. Systemic Linkage

This process can be made possible by providing common facilities for the two groups possibly on a neutral ground. Any device that can create communication link between the two groups can be utilised, e.g. a demonstration plot, housing facilities, hospitals, a place of worship and any other important facilities that can bring the two groups together.

Systemic linkage can be described as using one stone to kill two birds. The system is necessary for sociological work because of the lack of resources to provide different facilities for different groups in a community.

In carrying out this process, it is very essential for the rural sociologist to study the prevailing situation in the community. This system may not work where the relationship between the different social groups have not been very cordial. If the relationship between the groups is cordial, the system will save the resources, time, and energy of the sociologists.

13. Indigenous Knowledge

Every society or culture has its knowledge systems including knowledge that enables members to cope with daily life whether in the areas of aquaculture, health, education and economics or any other area of human endeavour. The term indigenous knowledge was first used to describe knowledge that is generated and transmitted by community’s overtime, in an effort to cope with their own agro-ecological and socioeconomic environments (Igbokwe, 2001; Igodan and Adekunle, 1993).

The term has been variously referred to as traditional knowledge, local knowledge, community knowledge or rural peoples’ knowledge. Therefore, the new attention being given to traditional knowledge system has given rise to new areas of study viz ethno-medicine (traditional medicine), ethno-veterinary medicine, ethno-botany, ethno husbandry among others.

The implication is that in the quest for modernization, there are certain knowledge/practices or innovations existing in developing communities/societies that can be adopted into Western systems in order to ensure sustainability.

Indigenous knowledge (I.K) is local knowledge. It is unique knowledge to a given culture or society. Some indigenous knowledge is not written down. It is held in people’s heads and transmitted from one generation to the next by word of mouth.

Areas of concern about indigenous knowledge are:

· Indigenous technologies

· Knowledge systems (such as taxonomies)

· Decision making systems (such as what crops to grow on certain soils)

· Organizational structures (such as farmers’ groups).


Other Basic Concepts/Definitions Change

Agent: These are persons who attempt to facilitate changes in the behaviour of their constituents or areas.

Cosmopolites: They are individuals who are and often interact with urban communities. Ethno Centrism It is the tendency to value highly a person’s own culture and regard it as superior to the cultures of others.

Incest Taboo: This is the prohibition of marriage or sexual intercourse between certain relatives such as mother and son, brother and sister.

Institution: It is a structural aspect of culture which satisfies some fundamental needs and functions of a society.


Historical Development of Rural Sociology in Nigeria

Before 1960, when Nigeria became independent of British rule, no attempt was made to teach Rural Sociology as a discipline in the only Nigerian university, the University of Ibadan, which was established in 1948 (Jibrow 1992).

When a Department of Agricultural Economics was established, there was no separate Department of Rural Sociology established in the institution until 1991. Rural Sociology has been taught as a subject in the department since 1966.

In 1968, when a department of Agricultural Extension Services was created in that university, the teaching of Rural Sociology was moved or transferred to the new department.

In 1962, the University of Ife was founded. This university established the Department of Rural Sociology and Extension Education in 1966 under Professor Robert Clark as the Head of Department. He was a member of the University of Wisconsin’s team to University of Ife.

The nomenclature of this university was later changed to the Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Sociology. The change was to reflect the departmental agricultural orientation.

At the first stage, only one course, “Extension in Agriculture”, was taught with some topics in Rural Sociology viz: social systems, culture and adoption of farm practices.

When the curriculum was reviewed in the late 1970s several courses in Rural Sociology were introduced both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In the early 1960s Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) was established.

Also, the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology was established where courses in Rural Sociology are also offered.

The most important event in the development of Rural Sociology in Nigeria was the establishment of the Nigeria Rural Sociological Association (NRSA) on 6th November 1984.

The first Annual Conference of the association was held at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife. The first president of the association was Alao Joseph Adebanyo who was a professor of Rural Sociology at the University of Ife.

The second important step in the development of Rural Sociology was the founding of the Nigerian Journal of Rural Sociology by the Nigerian Rural Sociological Association at its Inaugural Conference. 

The members of the Editorial Board of this journal were obtained from all over the country. 

They included A. A. Jobowo from University of Ife, B. O. Ogunbameu from University of Maiduguri, A. U. Patel from the University of Ibadan and F. O. Mc Oliver from the University of Benin.

The second Annual Conference centred on the theme of Interdisciplinary Approach to Development. Cooperation between National and Social Sciences towards Planned Social Change. This attracted many papers from many disciplines by then.

The Second Annual Conference was held between 6-10 April 1986. The conference examined the theme Utilisation of Rural Resources for Rural Development which attracted various papers from many disciplines. Over fifty papers were presented on topics ranging from Extension, Sociology, Soil Science, Nutrition to those in Geography, Agricultural Economics, History and Political Science (Jibowo, 1922). The most outstanding political achievement of this conference was the attendance by the Federal Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade (Rtd).

In the Minister’s keynote address he presented, among other contributions, the organisation of rural people into pressure groups to bring government attention to supporting rural development programmes.

Due to the frequent visits of some executive committee members of the Nigerian Rural Sociological Association to the Director of Agriculture, and the Director of Rural Development at the Federal level, some money was donated to the Nigerian Rural Sociological Association to organize its conferences and support its academic publications.

According to Jobowo (1992), the first issue of the association’s journal with the proceedings of the first conference, and the proceedings of the second conference were published.

The proceedings of the third conference and a book of readings coming from some presented papers at the conference, appeared in press on 21st August, 1986. The second issue of the association’s journal was also published.

With the recognition given to the association during its third Annual Conference by the Federal Government of Nigeria, it was hoped that the association will continue to grow firmly and sustainably. Discuss the significant event in the development of Rural Sociology in Nigeria.


Conclusion on Definitions of Sociological Terms and Historical Development of Rural Sociology in Nigeria

This article, has examined the basic concepts or definitions of sociological terms and the historical development of Rural Sociology in Nigeria. I hope by now, you would be able to understand some basic terms when used in sociological discussions by experts in the field.

This article has exposed you to the various definitions or concepts of sociology as well as its historical development.

In addition it has examined some important events in the development of Rural Sociology in a developing country like Nigeria. It has also highlighted how some sociological departments were established and the Rural Sociology course/curriculum offered in some universities.

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