by Carol Ann Gillespie
Texas State University: San Marcos
San Marcos, Texas
A folk culture is a small, self-reliant community that is technologically simple and traditional in nature. The term "folk culture" also refers to the artifacts of this community 's material culture (such as tools, clothing, and houses) as well as the nonmaterial culture (traditions and institutions). This essay describes how one folk culture -- the Old Order Amish -- has successfully resisted acculturation and assimilation into the dominant mainstream culture of North America for more than two centuries.
A Thriving Subculture
Long extinct in Europe, the Amish subculture has fared well under the spirit of religious freedom and political accommodation given them in North America (Kraybill and Olshan, 1994). A sustained high fertility rate of seven children per family over the past century has contributed to a steadily growing population (Luthy, 1992; Ericksen et al, 1979). Of the estimated 176,550 Amish who live in the United States, almost 74 percent are considered "Old Order Amish" (Kraybill and Olshan, 1994; Hostetler and Huntington, 2001). Approximately 70 percent of the Amish population is concentrated in the states of Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with the largest settlement in Holmes, Tuscarawas, and Wayne counties in northeastern Ohio (see Figure 1, a map of Amish church districts in the northeastern U.S.).
The Old Order Amish flourish as a tradition-based folk culture in the midst of a progressive dominant culture whose values are very different. They lead a simple lifestyle based on self-sufficiency and a rich sense of interdependent community that has changed very little in the past three centuries. Separate from American mainstream culture, the Amish preserve their culture and identity by excluding the outside world in as many aspects of their lives as possible. Their policy of separation
References: Ericksen, Eugene P., J.A. Ericksen, J.A. Hostetler, and G.E. Huntington. "Fertility Patterns and Trends Among the Old Order Amish." Population Studies 33 (July 1979): 255-76. Friedrich, Lora Hostetler, John A. Amish Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Hostetler, John A., and Gertrude Enders Huntington Kraybill, Donald B. The Riddle of Amish Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Kraybill, Donald B., and Marc Olshan, ed Luthy, David. "Amish Settlements Across America: 1991." Family Life (April 1992): 19-24. Illustration Credits