Urban sociology | Wikipedia audio article


Urban sociology is the sociological study
of life and human interaction in metropolitan areas. It is a normative discipline of sociology
seeking to study the structures, environmental processes, changes and problems of an urban
area and by doing so provide inputs for urban planning and policy making. In other words, it is the sociological study
of cities and their role in the development of society. Like most areas of sociology, urban sociologists
use statistical analysis, observation, social theory, interviews, and other methods to study
a range of topics, including migration and demographic trends, economics, poverty, race
relations and economic trends. The philosophical foundations of modern urban
sociology originate from the work of sociologists such as Karl Marx, Ferdinand Tönnies, Émile
Durkheim, Max Weber and Georg Simmel who studied and theorized the economic, social and cultural
processes of urbanization and its effects on social alienation, class formation, and
the production or destruction of collective and individual identities. These theoretical foundations were further
expanded upon and analyzed by a group of sociologists and researchers who worked at the University
of Chicago in the early twentieth century. In what became known as the Chicago School
of sociology the work of Robert Park, Louis Wirth and Ernest Burgess on the inner city
of Chicago revolutionized the purpose of urban research in sociology but also the development
of human geography through its use of quantitative and ethnographic research methods. The importance of the theories developed by
the Chicago School within urban sociology have been critically sustained and critiqued
but still remain one of the most significant historical advancements in understanding urbanization
and the city within the social sciences.==Development and rise of urban sociology
==Urban sociology rose to prominence within
the academy in North America through a group of sociologists and theorists at the University
of Chicago from 1915 to 1940 in what became known as the Chicago School of Sociology. The Chicago School of Sociology combined sociological
and anthropological theory with ethnographic fieldwork in order to understand how individuals
interact within urban social systems. Unlike the primarily macro-based sociology
that had marked earlier subfields, members of the Chicago School placed greater emphasis
on micro-scale social interactions that sought to provide subjective meaning to how humans
interact under structural, cultural and social conditions. The theory of symbolic interaction, the basis
through which many methodologically-groundbreaking ethnographies were framed in this period,
took primitive shape alongside urban sociology and shaped its early methodological leanings. Symbolic interaction was forged out of the
writings of early micro-sociologists George Mead and Max Weber, and sought to frame how
individuals interpret symbols in everyday interactions. With early urban sociologists framing the
city as a ‘superorganism’, the concept of symbolic interaction aided in parsing out
how individual communities contribute to the seamless functioning of the city itself.Scholars
of the Chicago School originally sought to answer a single question: how did an increase
in urbanism during the time of the Industrial Revolution contribute to the magnification
of contemporary social problems? Sociologists centered on Chicago due to its
‘tabula rasa’ state, having expanded from a small town of 10,000 in 1860 to an urban
metropolis of over two million in the next half-century. Along with this expansion came many of the
era’s emerging social problems – ranging from issues with concentrated homelessness and
harsh living conditions to the low wages and long hours that characterized the work of
the many newly arrived European immigrants. Furthermore, unlike many other metropolitan
areas, Chicago did not expand outward at the edges as predicted by early expansionist theorists,
but instead ‘reformatted’ the space available in a concentric ring pattern. As with many modern cities the business district
occupied the city center and was surrounded by slum and blighted neighborhoods, which
were further surrounded by workingmens’ homes and the early forms of the modern suburbs. Urban theorists suggested that these spatially
distinct regions helped to solidify and isolate class relations within the modern city, moving
the middle class away from the urban core and into the privatized environment of the
outer suburbs.Due to the high concentration of first-generation immigrant families in
the inner city of Chicago during the early 20th century, many prominent early studies
in urban sociology focused upon the transmission of immigrants’ native culture roles and norms
into new and developing environments. Political participation and the rise in inter-community
organizations were also frequently covered in this period, with many metropolitan areas
adopting census techniques that allowed for information to be stored and easily accessed
by participating institutions such as the University of Chicago. Park, Burgess and McKenzie, professors at
the University of Chicago and three of the earliest proponents of urban sociology, developed
the Subculture Theories, which helped to explain the often-positive role of local institutions
on the formation of community acceptance and social ties. When race relations break down and expansion
renders one’s community members anonymous, as was proposed to be occurring in this period,
the inner city becomes marked by high levels of social disorganization that prevent local
ties from being established and maintained in local political arenas. The rise of urban sociology coincided with
the expansion of statistical inference in the behavioural sciences, which helped ease
its transition and acceptance in educational institutions along with other burgeoning social
sciences. Micro-sociology courses at the University
of Chicago were among the earliest and most prominent courses on urban sociological research
in the United States.==Evolution of urban sociology==The evolution and transition of sociological
theory from the Chicago School began to emerge in the 1970s with the publication of Claude
Fischer’s (1975) “Toward a Theory of Subculture Urbanism” which incorporated Bourdieu’s theories
on social capital and symbolic capital within the invasion and succession framework of the
Chicago School in explaining how cultural groups form, expand and solidify a neighbourhood. The theme of transition by subcultures and
groups within the city was further expanded by Barry Wellman’s (1979) “The Community Question:
The Intimate Networks of East Yorkers” which determined the function and position of the
individual, institution and community in the urban landscape in relation to their community. Wellman’s categorization and incorporation
of community focused theories as “Community Lost”, “Community Saved”, and “Community Liberated”
which center around the structure of the urban community in shaping interactions between
individuals and facilitating active participation in the local community are explained in detail
below: Community lost: The earliest of the three
theories, this concept was developed in the late 19th century to account for the rapid
development of industrial patterns that seemingly caused rifts between the individual and their
local community. Urbanites were claimed to hold networks that
were “impersonal, transitory and segmental”, maintaining ties in multiple social networks
while at the same time lacking the strong ties that bound them to any specific group. This disorganization in turn caused members
of urban communities to subsist almost solely on secondary affiliations with others, and
rarely allowed them to rely on other members of the community for assistance with their
needs. Community saved: A critical response to the
community lost theory that developed during the 1960s, the community saved argument suggests
that multistranded ties often emerge in sparsely-knit communities as time goes on, and that urban
communities often possess these strong ties, albeit in different forms. Especially among low-income communities, individuals
have a tendency to adapt to their environment and pool resources in order to protect themselves
collectively against structural changes. Over time urban communities have tendencies
to become “urban villages”, where individuals possess strong ties with only a few individuals
that connect them to an intricate web of other urbanities within the same local environment. Community liberated: A cross-section of the
community lost and community saved arguments, the community liberated theory suggests that
the separation of workplace, residence and familial kinship groups has caused urbanites
to maintain weak ties in multiple community groups that are further weakened by high rates
of residential mobility. However, the concentrated number of environments
present in the city for interaction increase the likelihood of individuals developing secondary
ties, even if they simultaneously maintain distance from tightly-knit communities. Primary ties that offer the individual assistance
in everyday life form out of sparsely-knit and spatially dispersed interactions, with
the individual’s access to resources dependent on the quality of the ties they maintain within
their community.Along with the development of these theories, urban sociologists have
increasingly begun to study the differences between the urban, rural and suburban environment
within the last half-century. Consistent with the community liberated argument,
researchers have in large part found that urban residents tend to maintain more spatially-dispersed
networks of ties than rural or suburban residents. Among lower-income urban residents, the lack
of mobility and communal space within the city often disrupts the formation of social
ties and lends itself to creating an unintegrated and distant community space. While the high density of networks within
the city weakens relations between individuals, it increases the likelihood that at least
one individual within a network can provide the primary support found among smaller and
more tightly-knit networks. Since the 1970s, research into social networks
has focused primarily on the types of ties developed within residential environments. Bonding ties, common of tightly-knit neighborhoods,
consist of connections that provide an individual with primary support, such as access to income
or upward mobility among a neighborhood organization. Bridging ties, in contrast, are the ties that
weakly connect strong networks of individuals together. A group of communities concerned about the
placement of a nearby highway may only be connected through a few individuals that represent
their views at a community board meeting, for instance.However, as theory surrounding
social networks has developed, sociologists such as Alejandro Portes and the Wisconsin
model of sociological research began placing increased leverage on the importance of these
weak ties. While strong ties are necessary for providing
residents with primary services and a sense of community, weak ties bring together elements
of different cultural and economic landscapes in solving problems affecting a great number
of individuals. As theorist Eric Oliver notes, neighborhoods
with vast social networks are also those that most commonly rely on heterogeneous support
in problem solving, and are also the most politically active.As the suburban landscape
developed during the 20th century and the outer city became a refuge for the wealthy
and, later, the burgeoning middle class, sociologists and urban geographers such as Harvey Molotov,
David Harvey and Neil Smith began to study the structure and revitalization of the most
impoverished areas of the inner city. In their research, impoverished neighborhoods,
which often rely on tightly-knit local ties for economic and social support, were found
to be targeted by developers for gentrification which displaced residents living within these
communities. Political experimentation in providing these
residents with semi-permanent housing and structural support – ranging from Section
8 housing to Community Development Block Grant programs- have in many cases eased the transition
of low-income residents into stable housing and employment. Yet research covering the social impact of
forced movement among these residents has noted the difficulties individuals often have
with maintaining a level of economic comfort, which is spurred by rising land values and
inter-urban competition between cities in as a means to attract capital investment. The interaction between inner-city dwellers
and middle class passersby in such settings has also been a topic of study for urban sociologists.==Criticism==
Many theories in urban sociology have been criticized, most prominently directed toward
the ethnocentric approaches taken by many early theorists that lay groundwork for urban
studies throughout the 20th century. Early theories that sought to frame the city
as an adaptable “superorganism” often disregarded the intricate roles of social
ties within local communities, suggesting that the urban environment itself rather than
the individuals living within it controlled the spread and shape of the city. For impoverished inner-city residents, the
role of highway planning policies and other government-spurred initiatives instituted
by the planner Robert Moses and others have been criticized as unsightly and unresponsive
to residential needs. The slow development of empirically-based
urban research reflects the failure of local urban governments to adapt and ease the transition
of local residents to the short-lived industrialization of the city.Some modern social theorists have
also been critical toward the apparent shortsightedness that urban sociologists have shown toward
the role of culture in the inner city. William Julius Wilson has criticized theory
developed throughout the middle of the twentieth century as relying primarily on structural
roles of institutions, and not how culture itself affects common aspects of inner-city
life such as poverty. The distance shown toward this topic, he argues,
presents an incomplete picture of inner-city life.The urban sociological theory is viewed
as one important aspect of sociology.==See also====References=====Notes======Further reading===
Berger, Alan S., The City: Urban Communities and Their Problems, Dubuque, Iowa : William
C. Brown, 1978. Bourdieu, P., Distinction: A Social Critique
of the Judgement of Taste, (trans) Nice, R., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984. Durkheim, E., The Division of Labor in Society,
(trans) Coser, L.A., New York: Free Press, 1997. Fischer, C.S., “Toward a Subculture Theory
of Urbanism”. American Journal of Sociology, 80, pp. 1319–1341,
1975. Harvey, D., “From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism:
The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism”. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 71, pp. 3–17,
1989. Hutchison, R., Gottdiener M., and Ryan, M.T.:
The New Urban Sociology. Westview Press, Google E-Book, 2014. Marx, K., A Contribution to the Critique of
Political Economy, (trans) Stone, N.I., Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1911. Marx, K., Capital: A Critique of Political
Economy, Vol. 1, (trans) Fowkes, B., New York: Penguin, 1976. Molotch, H., “The City as a Growth Machine:
Toward a Political Economy of Place”. American Journal of Sociology, 82(2), pp.
309–332, 1976. Molotch, H. and Logan, J., Urban Fortunes:
The Political Economy of Place, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press,
1987. Portes, A., and Sensenbrenner, J., “Embeddedness
and immigration: notes on the social determinants of economic action”, American Journal of Sociology,
98, pp. 1320–1350, 1993. Simmel, G., The Sociology of Georg Simmel,
(trans) Wolff, K.H., Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1950. Smith, N., The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification
and The Revanchist City, London: Routledge, 1996. Tonnies, F., Community and Society, (trans)
Loomis, C.P, East Lansing: Michigan State Press, 1957. Weber, M., The City, (trans) Martindale, D.,
and Neuwirth, G., New York: The Free Press, 1958
Weber, M., The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings, (trans)
Baehr, P. and Wells, G.C., New York: Penguin, 2002. Wellman, B., “The Community Question: The
Intimate Networks of East Yorkers”. American Journal of Sociology, 84(5), pp.
1201–31, 1979. Wilson, W.J., When Work Disappears: The World
of the New Urban Poor, New York: Knopf, 1996. Wirth, L., “Urbanism as a Way of Life”. American Journal of Sociology, 44(1), pp.
1–24, 1938.




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