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The Meaning of Folkways

The concept of folkways is associated with the name of William Sumner who made one of the clarifying analyses of culture and its implications. In his sociological classic folkways he has made a notable contribution to the understanding of individual behavior. Sumner conceived of culture in terms of folkways and mores and used the terms folkways in a very comprehensive sense. According to him They are like products of natural forces which men unconsciously set in operation or they are like the instinctive ways of animals which are developed out of experience which reach a final form of maximum adaptation to an interest which are handed down by tradition and admit of no exception or variation yet change to meet new conditions still within the same limited methods and without rational reflection or purpose. From this it results that all the life of human beings in all ages and stages of culture is primarily controlled by a vast mass of folkways handed down from the earliest existence of the race having the nature of the ways of other animals only the top-most layers of which are subject to change and control and have been somewhat modified by human philosophy, ethics and religion or by other acts of intelligent reflection.

Folkways are recognized ways of behavior in a society which arise automatically within a group to meet the problems of social living. Social life is full of problems and man seems to have tried every possible way of dealing with such problems. Different societies have found different workable patterns. A group through trial and error, sheer accident or some unknown influence may arrive at one of the possibilities, repeats it and accepts it as the normal way of behavior. It is passed on the succeeding generations and becomes one of the ways of the group of the folk hence a folkway. According to Sumner men inherited from their beast ancestor's psycho-physical traits, instincts and dexterities or at least predispositions which give them aid in solving the problem of food supply, sex, commerce and vanity. The result is mass phenomena: currents of similarity, concurrence and mutual contribution and these produce folkways.

The folkways are thus the product of frequent repetition of petty acts, often by great numbers acting in concert or at least acting in the same way when face to face with the same needs.

According to Lundberg, folkways designate those uniformities in the behavior of a group which develop relatively spontaneously and even unconsciously in adapting to common life conditions and which become established through repetition and general occurance.Thus they are those unconscious collective modes of behavior that are believed to ensure the survival and growth of the group. They include the innumerable ways of behavior men have evolved about the business of social living. They are the customs and usages which have been passed from old generations and to which new elements are added according to the changing needs of times. They represent man's unique means of adapting himself to his environment. No member of the group ever questions a folkway nor is anyone needed to enforce a folkway.