The Rural Primitive in American Popular Culture

The Rural Primitive in American Popular Culture

All Too Familiar

Karen E. Hayden


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The Rural Primitive in American Popular Culture: All Too Familiar studies how the mythology of the primitive rural other became linked to evolutionary theories, both biological and social, that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century. This mythology fit well on the imaginary continuums of primitive to civilized, rural to urbanormative, backward to forward-thinking, and regress versus progress. In each chapter of The Rural Primitive, Karen E. Hayden uses popular cultural depictions of the rural primitive to illustrate the ways in which this trope was used to set poor, rural whites apart from others. Not only were they set apart, however; they were also set further down on the imaginary continuum of progress and regress, of evolution and devolution. Hayden argues that small, rural, tight-knit communities, where “everyone knows everyone” and “everyone is related” came to be an allegory for what will happen if society resists modernization and urbanization. The message of the rural, close-knit community is clear: degeneracy, primitivism, savagery, and an overall devolution will result if groups are allowed to become too insular, too close, too familiar.


Karen E. Hayden:
Karen Hayden joined the faculty at Merrimack College in 1997 and earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 2001. She served as the chairperson of the Department of Sociology & Criminology before moving on to Chair the Department of Criminology. Dr. Hayden’s areas of interest within criminology include girls, women, and crime; rural crime; law and society; and cultural criminology. Her work has appeared in Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Teaching Sociology and she wrote two chapters in the forthcoming edited volume, Against Urbanormativity: Perspectives on Rural Theory (Lexington Books/Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc).