Oceania June 1962, vol 32 no.4, p329-330

Traditional Cultures: and the Impact of Technological Change. By George M. Foster. Harper and Brothers, New York. 1962. Pp. 292. $4.75.

This book is concerned with the effects of sudden technological developments on the social structure, culture and psychology of peasant peoples. After describing the traditional peasant society (Mexico, Egypt, South America, India, etc.), possible social, cultural and psychological barriers to change in such society are examined in detail. Then follows a discussion of possible internal stimulants which could foster change such as the desire for prestige and economic gain, etc.

Primarily, this is an essay in applied anthropology and the author certainly has the necessary background and experience to write on such a topic. He warns the technical specialist charged with introducing changes in peasant society of the dangers of wearing - cultural blinders . . . which prevent us from fully understanding the needs and desires of the people we wish to help, and which make us insensitive to the full range of economic, social and cultural consequences resulting from narrowly conceived developmental programs " (Pp. 1-2). The author claims that because of this many of the United States' " aid programs have fallen short of the goals set for them " (P. 2).

The author gives a clear exposition of functionalist theory (p. 13), stressing that there is no such thing as technological development in isolation. He prefers the term 11 sociotechnological development " and hastens to add that such development is also a psychological process. By the latter he means that for technical changes to be successful changes in the values, beliefs and attitudes of the recipient people must also change, but with a minimum of disruption. He also stresses that every society is a dynamic society and that traditional peasant societies, like all other types of traditional societies, underwent changes as a result of invention and diffusion long before modern aid programs were introduced. The idea of change, then is not alien to such societies. But aid programs introduce sudden changes and herein lies the rub.

The book is free of technical language and should be required reading for all technical experts, who lack anthropological training, and who are charged with carrying out aid programs. The points it makes are applicable to all traditional societies and not only to peasantry.


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