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Features of Folk Society

Folk societies represent an integral part of our world’s socio-cultural fabric. Rooted in traditional customs, beliefs, and practices, they add to the vibrancy of global diversity. Anthropologists, in this regard provides a comprehensive analysis of the distinct characteristics that define folk societies.

Definition of Folk Society

A folk society, also referred to as a preliterate or pre-industrial society, typically exists in rural, non-industrialized settings. It is characterized by homogeneity, close-knit relationships, and simple technology, with culture and traditions passed down through generations orally [1].

Key Characteristics of Folk Societies

1. Small and Homogeneous Population

The population in a folk society is usually small, often limited to a single community or a small group of communities. The people share common ethnicity, language, and customs, resulting in a homogeneous culture [2].

2. Intimate Social Relations

Due to the small population size, individuals in folk societies often have close, intimate relationships. Interactions are personal, face-to-face, and relationships are multistranded, i.e., an individual may relate to another in multiple capacities such as neighbor, relative, and co-worker.

3. Economy and Subsistence

Folk societies primarily follow a subsistence economy, relying on hunting, gathering, or small-scale agriculture. They use simple tools and techniques and primarily produce for their own needs rather than for trade or profit [3].

4. Traditional Belief Systems

Religion and spirituality play crucial roles in the social and cultural life of folk societies. They typically follow animistic belief systems, where natural elements like rivers, mountains, and animals are considered sacred.

5. Oral Tradition

Folk societies are known for their strong oral traditions. Knowledge, wisdom, and cultural heritage are transmitted from one generation to another through folklore, oral histories, and storytelling [4].

Table 1 provides a summary of these key characteristics.

PopulationSmall and Homogeneous
Social RelationsIntimate and Multistranded
Belief SystemsTraditional and Animistic
Oral TraditionStrong

Folk Society Vs. Urban Society

To better understand the features of a folk society, it’s beneficial to compare them to urban societies:

  • Population: While folk societies are small and homogeneous, urban societies are larger, more diverse, and heterogeneous [5].
  • Social Relations: Folk societies emphasize intimate, multifaceted relationships, whereas urban societies tend to foster impersonal, segmented relationships.
  • Economy: Folk societies rely on simple tools for subsistence, while urban societies are characterized by specialized occupations, market exchange, and advanced technology.
  • Belief Systems: While folk societies follow traditional beliefs and rituals, urban societies often show religious diversity and are more secular.
  • Oral Tradition: Folk societies rely heavily on oral tradition, whereas written communication is more prevalent in urban societies.


Folk societies, with their unique characteristics, provide rich anthropological insights into human social organization and cultural expression. Recognizing and understanding these features helps preserve their legacy and contribute to our understanding of human diversity.


[1] Redfield, R. (1955). The Folk Society. American Journal of Sociology, 60(4), 293–300.

[2] Peacock, J. L. (1975). The Anthropological Lens. Cambridge University Press.

[3] Harris, M. (1968). The Rise of Anthropological Theory. Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

[4] Vansina, J. (1985). Oral Tradition as History. University of Wisconsin Press.

[5] Tönnies, F. (1887). Community and Society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft). Dover Publications.

Anthropologist Vasundhra - Author and Anthroholic

Vasundhra, an anthropologist, embarks on a captivating journey to decode the enigmatic tapestry of human society. Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, she unravels the intricacies of social phenomena, immersing herself in the lived experiences of diverse cultures. Armed with an unwavering passion for understanding the very essence of our existence, Vasundhra fearlessly navigates the labyrinth of genetic and social complexities that shape our collective identity. Her recent publication unveils the story of the Ancient DNA field, illuminating the pervasive global North-South divide. With an irresistible blend of eloquence and scientific rigor, Vasundhra effortlessly captivates audiences, transporting them to the frontiers of anthropological exploration.

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