chapter  5
36 Pages

SOCIAL RESOURCES – THE HUMAN DIMENSION

The Resource Context Nowhere has the terminology and concept of 'resources1 been so overused yet ill-defined as has been the case in the study of society, social change, and social management. Robert Desatwick's translation of 'dealing with people' as 'the human res­ ources function' is symbolic of the jargon-ridden state of resource conceptualisation in the social sciences. Equally, in the narrower field of study concerning social phenomena in rural areas the term resource has been used in widely differing contexts with various inferred meanings. A glance at any rural planning text, for example, will yield a harvest of such usage:

While the countryside must be economically healthy if it is to cope with ali the demands placed on it, there is evidence that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of resource development. 2 Nationally, it may appear that there is ample land for accommodating the excess housing and recreational needs of the nation's urban

population and that the demands they put on the countryside hold out the possibility of a welcome transfer of resources from the towns to the country. 3 Ali parts of the country wanted similar numbers of villages designated key settlements because of the resources they were supposed to attract. 4

While this point may seem rather laboured, the very fact that most researchers dealing with rural com­ munities and social planning have adopted a rather liberal and generalised approach to the resource con­ cept means that it is far less easy to equate rural social resources with the body of theory and concepts suggested in Chapter 2 than has been the case with natural resources. Yet if the notion of resources can realistically be identified as a basis for more integrated study of rural management, the definition of social resources is an important task both despite the difficulties of current semantic usage, and indeed because of these very difficulties. Two principles expanded in Chapter 2 hold the key to just how much of rural society and its trappings can be seen in a resource perspective. Principle One: 1 a resource may be viewed as a functional relationship between human wants; human abilities and a human appraisal of the holistic (that is 'physical1 and 'human1) environment.' The idea of a holistic relationship between man and en­ vironment naturally accords well with the heart of traditional geographical thinking. Moreover, social geographers believe that this relationship functions around the three influences of physico-geographical conditions, economic forces, and (significantly) societal structures. Thus we are presented with the idea not only that man and environment interlink economically, but also that a similar social link may be established. Indeed, Dennis and Clout^ argue that 'social relationships are.... advanced by social geographers as forming a kind of missing link or an area of mediation between the natural milieu and the processes of economic production.' There are two fundamental ways of looking at these three elements of the man-environment relationship. First, social values are not resources themselves but are seen to perform acts of arbitration on the use of other, more tangibly physical resources. In

nations where rural areas constitute vast stretches of relatively unpressured land, this arbitration role is paramount. The land use program for Ontario, Canada, for example, notes a shift in social values towards rural land:

There is a growing consciousness of the natural environment and concern with natural environmental consequences of urban development. The public relates to the preservation of agricultural land and the treatment of rural land as a natural resource rather than a resource for urban u s e . 6

In this case, prevailing social values do not recognise the importance of existing community structures as integral parts of the resource base under discussion. Rural land is viewed as a natural resource by an environmentally conscious urban population, and rural Society is seen to exist on top of the rural resource base. This concept of Society as being grafted onto a foundation of natural and environmental resources is supported by the idea of 'urban resources' as expressed by authors such as Perloff^ and M a c N e i l l ö . Here, the natural elements of the urban system (such as space, topography, climate and surroundings) are defined as urban resources which support a variety of interrelated life systems, including man. The second perspective on the interaction of environ­ ment, economy and society stems from the idea that as economic links between man and environment can be seen in resource terms, there is no logical reason why social links cannot similarly be classed. as resources. In this way, society and community are part of the rural resource base rather than separate phenomena which parasitically sit astride the natural facets of rural areas. This symbiotic relationship between man and environment might thus be seen as a useable resource with which to generate social, cultural and economic objectives. Even the overused maxim 'resources are not, they become' (see Chapter 2.1) applies here in that the utility and viability of rural communities will depend on the political will of nations to maintain and develop an alternative to urban life-styles by promoting equality of opportunity amongst groups of

different class, race and affluence to live in a rural environment. In broad terms, then, rural communities may be viewed as a primary resource wi.thout which more tangible natural resources in rural areas could not be exploited, and through which the human wants, abilities and environmental appraisal can take place against the background of a choice of living milieux. It is this second view of the environment/economy/society relationship which is adopted in this book. Principle Two; 1anything can be regarded as a res­ ource if it o"ffers a means of attaining certain socially valued goals1. If it is accepted that Soc­ iety and community in rural areas can be viewed as an integral part of the primary resource base (that is an essential ingredient of the value and utility of the rural environment) then it follows that any item required to sustain the needs of rural communi­ ties can itself be labelled as a resource. There is an interesting divergence of interpretation here of the ‘means1 by which socially-valued goals may be attained. Whitby and Willis^ define resources as'the means for producing goods and services that are used to satisfy wants*. They subdivide resources into three categories: Natural resources: Ali those gifts of nature such as land, air, water, minerals, forests, fish, quiet pleasant landscape and so on. Labour; Ali human resources, mental and physical, inherited or acquired. Capital; Ali equipment, including everything manmade which is not consumed for its own sake, but which may be used up in the process of making other goods. This taxonomy is well suited to the economic analysis adopted by Whitby and Willis but is less so for other purposes, such as Spitze'sl° analysis of the progress of rural people (both as economic and human beings) into 'productive, participating and satisfying roles in our Society and economy.' To this end he proposes an overall function to define the human resource:

Rh = f (A,E,H,Ie,Kf,M,Fe,Ei) where (Rh) stands for a resource, a human being in a

productive participating, and satisfying role in a free society; (A) for inherent abilities; (E) for family and cultural environments; (H) for physical and mental health; (Ie) for investment in education; (Kf) for knowledge of factor markets; (M) for mobility; (Fe) for factor entry-exit; and (Ei) for employ­ ment level. Although Spitze uses this framework as a basis for quantification, a task which may be regarded as overambitious and of little explanatory value it does at least provide a nucleus for the consideration of some of the resources required to sustain the primary resource of human beings and their communities in rural areas. The Human Resource Hierarchy Whether the broad categories of capital and labour are accepted, or whether a longer and more detailed list of the means of attaining socially-valued goals in rural areas is preferred, it is clear that the human resource in rural areas requires a series of secondary and tertiary resources for its sustenance and survival. A simple view of these various levels of resources is offered in FIGURE 5.1.