The term hinterland conjures up several images, for it is a concept that can be interpreted at various scales and in different ways. At the local and national levels, the hinterland has traditionally been viewed as the tributary area of any settlement from which raw materials are collected and to which finished products are distributed.
Earlier in the twentieth century, the term umland was used to describe the hinterland of an urban settlement, but urban field is the concept employed at present. The urban field represents an extension of the city into the countryside and a merging of metropolitan and rural spaces. Within this urban field is the rural-urban fringe, a discontinuous zone between city and country in which urban and rural land uses are intermixed. Urban uses dominate closer to the city while rural uses are dominant but declining in the outer fringe. Beyond the rural-urban fringe is the so-called urban shadow, in which visible metropolitan influences are minimal but present in terms of nonfarm ownership and commuting patterns.
All of these concepts convey the increasing control of the city over its surrounding countryside. In this fashion, hinterland has become almost synonymous with rural and is juxtaposed with metropolis, both comprising parts of a single socioeconomic space that centers on the latter. Rural ceases to exist as a place as both it and urban are transformed into hinterland and metropolis as part of the unifying process known interchangeably in the historical literature as urbanization, modernization, or the Great Transformation. On an international scale, modernization theory views the developed world as the metropolis and the Third World as the hinterland, with the latter again being integrated into a world system directed by the former.
Ideology plays a major role in how scholars view the process. Those who see modernization favorably view it as a progressive process that serves development even though it results in the decline of rural population (out-migration), functions (loss of services), ways of life (the penetration of urban values facilitated by technological developments in transportation and communications), and other places (towns and villages). These scholars make the assumption, at least at the global level and arguably at the national scale also, that the more backward should mimic the more advanced.
Those who view modernization more critically portray it as a process whereby hinterlands are subjected to international and internal processes of imperialism and colonialism. The integration of metropolis and hinterland ensures a dependency relationship in which the hinterland provides a pool of labor, raw materials, and capital exploited and controlled by the metropolitan core. The political, economic, and cultural hegemony of the metropolis is ensured by the mechanism of unequal exchange that effectively subjugates the hinterland.
Although these views differ, particularly with regard to the benefits of industrial capitalism, both assume that social change in rural areas parallels urban and industrial trends, a process eventually leading to the complete disappearance of rural places. Yet, there are those who believe that modernization and core-periphery interpretations are spatially “overgeneralized.” While rural communities and small towns in European colonies (in both the Americas and the rest of the world) were integrated into larger regional, national, and international systems of production, the specifics of history, place, and human agency play a major role in molding and determining the local impact of these forces. Not every rural place was an incipient metropolis or even an embryonic hinterland for that matter. There have existed rural-designed and rural-oriented alternatives that promoted local control in spite of the macroeconomic and macrosocial climate. Even today, when the development of hinterlands is almost entirely dictated by decisions and tastes imposed according to metropolitan standards, there survive distinct rural values, places, and environments, even though many exist as alternatives to urban-industrial life, at least in the context of the developed world.Tags: discontinuous zone, rural-urban fringe, umland, urban shadow