The Urban Sociology Reader
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The Urban Sociology Reader

Jan Lin, Christopher Mele, Jan Lin, Christopher Mele

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eBook - ePub

The Urban Sociology Reader

Jan Lin, Christopher Mele, Jan Lin, Christopher Mele

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The urban world is an exciting terrain for investigating the central institutions, structures and problems of the social world and how they have transformed through the last 200 years. This Reader comprises sections on urban social theory, racial and social difference in the city, culture in everyday life, culture and the urban economy, globalization and transnational social relations and the regulation of urban space.

Drawing together seminal selections covering the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, this Reader includes forty-three significant writings from eminent names such as Simmel, Wirth, Park, Burgess, DuBois, Zukin, Sassen, and Harvey. The 2 nd edition illuminates more recent urban issues such as sprawl, sustainability, immigration and urban protest. Selections are predominantly sociological, but some readings cross disciplinary boundaries.

Providing an essential resource for students of urban studies, this book brings together important but, till now, widely dispersed writings. Editorial commentaries precede each entry; introducing the text, demonstrating its significance, and outlining the issues surrounding its topic, whilst the associated bibliography enables deeper investigations.

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PART ONE Urbanization and Community

DOI: 10.4324/9780203103333-2
Plate 1 A transatlantic arriving in the harbor, New York City, USA 1959 by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Reproduced by permission of Magnum Photos.
Plate 2 Skateboarder and biker. Reproduced by permission of Corbis.

Introduction to Part One

DOI: 10.4324/9780203103333-3
A central intellectual question since the original days of urban sociology is: “What are the effects of urbanization on community?” The European founders of the field of sociology such as Emile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tönnies were witness to rapid urbanization coupled with the locomotive onrush of industrialization in the capitalist societies of the late nineteenth century. The decline of primary, sentimental relationships and small group solidarities with the absorption of the rural into the urban world seemed quite inevitable at the time. Sociology originated as a positivistic science that compared the progress from rural societies to urban societies, to the biological maturation of natural organisms from infancy to maturity. The belief in the Enlightenment and the idea of progress underlay the theory of evolution and species development from simple to complex organisms. Classic urban sociology linked the phenomenon of specialization in the division of labor to the phenomenon of social differentiation in urban society.
Understanding the character of urbanism as a way of life is another seminal subject of urban sociology. Ferdinand Tönnies described the rural—urban shift through the conceptual categories of Gemeinschaft(community) and Gesellschaft(urban society). These concepts are good illustrations of ideal typesin sociological analysis. The ideal type functions as an analytical paradigm or model that can be analyzed and tested for its validity through comparison. Tönnies did not consider these societal types as mutually exclusive polar opposites, but as two categories in a continuum of societies undergoing social change. The shift from Gemeinschaftto Gesellschaftmay be compared with Emile Durkheim’s conception of society undergoing a transition from mechanical to organic solidarity. What Tönnies described as kurville, or collective will, is similar to what Durkheim described as collective consciousness, a collective soul or conscience that guides group behavior. The state was seen to act fairly and judiciously as the will of the people.
Both Tönnies and Durkheim recognized the fading of primary bonds of kinship, sentiment, and community life, with the ascendance of secondary bonds of occupational, legal, and political association. Tönnies somewhat romanticized the loss of Gemeinschaftbut in fact he saw Gesellschaftas a rational and necessary vehicle for guiding a more specialized and diverse society. The governmental state guaranteed that urbanism as way of life would guarantee rights, civility, and security to urban residents. Tönnies’ outlook on a rational and specialized urban society led by a legitimate state is a contrast from the Marxian view on class struggle and inequality in the division of labor. Tönnies was concerned that Gesellschaftbe kept honest and not be sabotaged by corruption or kidnapped by totalitarian political interests. Durkheim, in contrast, was more concerned with the moral consequences of the rise of anomiecaused by Gesellschaftsociety.
Georg Simmel had a less sentimental view of the decline of Gemeinschaft.He recognized factors of intensification that assaulted the psychological life of urbanites, fostering anonymity and impersonality in urban life. The importance of money in a capitalist society, he furthermore believed, contributed to a calculating and discriminating nature to the urban personality. Simmel viewed metropolitan man as blasé, jaded, and materialistic. Yet urbanism also promoted cosmopolitanism, which fostered greater social tolerance for unconventional behaviors and freedom from provinciality and prejudice. The oversaturation of our social life with materialism, superficiality, and objective values, however, has suppressed our subjectivity, spirituality, and social life. The urban personality is both bombarded and liberated by the sensory commercial marketplaces of modern capitalism. For Simmel, the experience of modern urban life is suffused with the experience of a money economy where quality has been reduced to quantity and consumers are materially rewarded but spiritually deprived. There is a loneliness that is brought about by an affluent society that has freed people to explore their individualism but left their souls in a state of restlessness and flux.
Louis Wirth updated the Durkheimian view on the decline of group solidarity to analysis of the modern American city. Wirth perceived that factors of size, density, and heterogeneity fostered role segmentation through the emancipation of the individual from traditional rules and mores. He clearly articulated the resulting normlessness, or anomie, the social void, which contributed to a spectrum of urban social problems, such as crime, delinquency, mental breakdown, and other forms of psychological and social disorganization. He updated Robert Park’s famous quote regarding the city (see “The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the City Environment,” American Journal of Sociology20, 5 [March 1915]: 577–612) as “a mosaic of social worlds which touch but do not interpenetrate” to the concept of the city as a “mosaic of social worlds in which the transition from one to the other is abrupt.” Geographic mobility, the growing decline of traditional norms and mores, and social heterogeneity were breeding social and personality disorders in the city. Wirth felt that sociologists had a mission to analyze and ameliorate urban social problems.
Claude Fischer reformulated Wirthian urbanism, applying the urban factors of size, density, and heterogeneity to the idea of creating rather than destroying communities. He argued that size and density of population in cities created “critical mass” sufficient to formulate new subcultural communities. The increasingly heterogeneous “mosaic of social worlds” further intensified subcultures through his concept that they touch, but then “recoil, with sparks flying.” His concept of subculture includes an eclectic assortment of special hobbyists, interest groups, artists, innovative thinkers, ethnic groups, religious subcultures, homosexuals, and others commonly classified as “deviant.” That they congregate socially and spatially as communities reverses the traditional thinking that urbanism leads to the decline of community and the growth of social disorganization. Fischer sees cities as diverse mosaics of heterogeneous neighborhoods that are crucibles for the exploration of subcultural diversity and social difference.
Fischer contributes to a growing view voiced by other writers such as Jacobs, and Wellman and Leighton, that there has been a popular renaissance and transformation of what we understand as “community” in the contemporary city. There is a kaleidoscopic array of new community forms in the city of the new millennium. Some revive the traditional enclaves of the old Gemeinschaft, like the “urban villages” that are nodes for the incorporation of international immigrants to the global city. Subcultural communities are more emergent phenomena that are formed out of new social networks of friendship and association, sometimes with an outsider status against the cultural mainstream. New technology, including the Internet, further widens the opportunities for social networking. The growth of new communities is also strongly connected with the rise of neighborhood-based mobilizations and other “urban social movements” that since the 1960s have risen to contest urban power brokers and the political establishment. The community resurgence has achieved growing public support, and promoted neighborhood planning as an antidote to the callousness of large, centralized planning bureaucracies.
The spirit of popular insurgency was codified through the writing and activism of Jane Jacobs, a fierce architectural critic of modernist planning that also stood up to New York power broker Robert Moses and helped organize a neighborhood movement and save Greenwich Village against the plan for an intercity freeway through Lower Manhattan. Jacobs gave voice to a scathing critique of the rational-bureaucratic state that promoted misguided urban renewal policies and destroyed vibrant neighborhoods throughout the nation for freeway building or new construction of architecturally dull housing towers surrounded by indefensible spaces. In her selection she expands on the importance of neighborhoods as “organs of self-government” that possess a natural ability to guide the quality of urban life, but have been marginalized and disempowered by powerful and insensitive centralized institutions. She asserts the most successful neighborhood-based political districts possess dense, territorially bounded social leadership networks with powers of communicative and political mobilization. The most powerful and stable neighborhood districts, she asserts, are socioeconomically and culturally diverse.
Wellman and Leighton similarly note the rise of “saved” and “liberated” communities that have challenged the older determinism of “community lost,” but contest the importance of neighborhoods in the ongoing mobilization and experience of community in our society. They draw attention to the growth of new kinds of communities liberated from the attachment to space that are constructed through more sparsely knit and loosely bounded social networks than traditional place-based communities. Innovations in communications and transport technology have enabled the rise of more “communities without propinquity” and the growth of the Internet has enabled new forms of social networking in the public sphere of the media. Though loose networks are more weakly sentimental or intimate, they contend that “liberated communities” are constructed of ramified, branching networks giving access to greater outside resources.
Robert Putnam, by contrast, downplays the sociological force of some of the new voluntary and membership organizations in our society based on ramified networks, such as the Sierra Club, the National Organization for Women, and the American Association of Retired Persons. Though these non-profit, “third sector” organizations might have significant political clout, he contrasts the growth of dues-paying interest group politics from the kinds of civic engagement that was mobilized by traditional organizations like Parent—Teacher Associations, the Boy Scouts, and the Red Cross. The decline of these traditional organizations has also meant the loss of generalized trust, reciprocity, and social capital in our society, he asserts, hobbling civic engagement and fostering greater individualism and political apathy in America. The decline of recreational bowling leagues in a nation now intent on “bowling alone” is his metaphor for the loss of intimate dense networks of sociability and civic engagement.
While some of Putnam’s assertions may be debated, there is growing interest in the relevance of the social capital concept as a way of understanding how economic decline and the out-movement of people from the inner city may be correlated to the loss of vital social networks and civic institutions. We may ponder to what degree ramified social networks and liberated communities are more concentrated in the affluent classes, which possess greater access to new technologies, resources, and other economic and political interests. While white middle-class communities may have been some of the pioneering participants in urban social movements and ramified social networking, racial/ethnic minorities and other subcultural communities have growing clout in neighborhood empowerment movements and participation in Internet social networking. The resurgence of revolutionary political activity in the Arab world in the spring of 2011 has certainly increased public and intellectual interest in the power of social networking as a tool for promoting protest politics among oppressed minorities. To what degree social networking can sustain a secure civic life, durable political institutions, and judicious democracies is a question for our continuing consideration.

"Community and Society"

From C. P. Loomis (ed.), Community and Society (1963) [1887]
Ferdinand Tönnies
DOI: 10.4324/9780203103333-4

Editors' Introduction

Ferdinand Tönnies (1855–1936) was born into a wealthy farming family in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, in an era in which the peasant culture of the rural province was being transformed by mechanization and the money economy. His oldest brother was engaged in a thriving trade with English merchants, exposing Tönnies first-hand to the world of English capitalism. In 1881 he became a lecturer at the University of Kiel, where he remained until ousted by the Nazis in 1933 because of his social democratic political associations. Though less influential than his contemporaries Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, Tönnies may be recognized as a founding father of sociology.
His enduring contribution to urban sociology is the distinction between two basic types of social formations, Gemeinschaft(community) and Gesellschaft(society), with a general historical trend from the former to the latter. Societies of the earlier form are organized around family, village, and town, with a mainly agricultural economy and local political culture. The latter form of society, by contrast, is exemplified by larger-level social units of metropolis and nation-state, and based on complex trade and industry. Primary sentimental relationships predominate in Gemeinschaft, while secondary associational relationships proliferate in Gesellschaft. While some of his interpreters proliferated the impression that Tönnies sentimentalized Gemeinschaftwhile criticizing Gesellschaft, he disclaimed such intention. For him, the shift was a normal developmental process of the body social, comparable to the transition from youth to adulthood.
Tönnies was strongly influenced by English thinkers, including the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, Sir Henry Maine, and the Social Darwinist Herbert Spencer. The concept of will was central to his theory. Tönnies argued that there are two basic forms of human volition, or will. Gemeinschaftis formed around Wesenwille, or essential will, which is the underlying, organic, self-fulfilling or instinctive driving force, while Gesellschaftis characterized by Kurwille, or arbitrary will, which is deliberative, purposive, instrumental, and future (goal) oriented. Wesenwilleis that which springs intrinsically from a person’s temper and character. Kurwilleis the capacity to distinguish means from ends and to act practically out of rational self-interest.
Tönnies decried totalitarianism (including the Nazism that emerged in Germany), but he was intrigued by the force of “public opinion” that enforces the communal will of society and may involve the use of sanctions against dissidents. He dealt with these ideas in other publications, including Die Sitte(1909) and Critique of Public Opinion(Lanham_ Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, edited and translated by Hanno Hardt and Slavko Splichal from Kritik der Offentlichen Meinung, 1922). His concept of Kurwillecan thus be related to the Hobbesian social contract, whereby citizens control the state through deliberation and reasoned discussion to counter tyrannical authority and avaricious despotism.
Tönnies developed his concepts Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaftas “ideal types,” which are paradigms or models that may not fully conform to social reality, but are useful for purposes of analytical comparison. Rather than being polar extremes, the two ideal types can be seen as being on opposite ends of a continuum. Tönnies conceived of any society as always to some degree possessing characteristics of both ideal types. The original concept of ideal types may be credited to the German sociologist Max Weber. Gemeinschaftmay be compared with the traditional society conceived by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim (The Division of Labor in Society[1893], translated by George Simpson. New York: Free Press, 1933) through his notion of mechanical solidarity, characterized by a simple division of labor and a morally homogeneous population bound by similar values and beliefs. Gesellschaftcorresponds with Durkheim’s notion of organic solidarity, found in the modern society that has a complex division of labor and a heterogeneous population held together by interdependency, laws, and contracts. The American sociologist Robert Redfield, on the basis of fieldwork in rural Mexico, later characterized the traditional society as the “folk society” (“The Folk Society,” American Journal of Sociology52 [1947], 293–308).
Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaftis also available in an earlier edition, which also contained some of Tönnies’ later essays, as Fundamental Concepts of Sociology(Oxford: American Book Co., 1940). Tönnies’ ten other books, of which the major work dealing with sociology is his 1931 EinfĂŒhrung in die Soziologie(An Introduction to Sociology; Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke), plus most of his essays, still await English translations. A full bibliography of Tönnies’ work can be found in American Journal of Sociology, 42 (1937), 100–101. A brief critique of Tönnies’ works can be found in Louis Wirth, “The Sociology of Ferdinand Tönnies,” American Journal of Sociology, 32 (1927), 412–422.

Order - Law - Mores

There is a contrast between a social order which - being based upon consensus of wills – rests on harmony and is developed and ennobled by folkways, mores, and religion, and an order which – being based upon a union of rational wills – rests on convention and agreement, is safeguarded by political legislation, and finds its ideological justification in public opinion.
There is, further, in the first instance a common and binding system of positive law, of enforcible norms regulating the interrelation of wills. It has its roots in family life and is based on land ownership. Its forms are in the main determined by the code of the folkways and mores. Religion consecrates and glorifies these forms of the divine will, i.e., as interpreted by the will of wise and ruling men. This system of norms is in direct contrast to a similar positive law which upholds the separate identity of the individual rational wills in all their interrelations and entanglements. The latter derives from the conventional order of trade and similar relations but attains validity and binding force only through the sovereign will and power of the state. Thus, it becomes one of the most important instruments of policy; it sustains, impedes, or furthers social trends; it is defended or contested publicly by doctrines and opinions and thus is changed, becoming more strict or more lenient.
There is, further, the dual concept of morality as a purely ideal or mental system of norms for community life. In the first case, it is mainly an expression and organ of religious beliefs and forces, by necessity intertwined with the conditions and realities of family spirit and the folkways and mores. In the second case, it is entirely a product and instrum...

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Citation styles for The Urban Sociology Reader
APA 6 Citation
[author missing]. (2012). The Urban Sociology Reader (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2012)
Chicago Citation
[author missing]. (2012) 2012. The Urban Sociology Reader. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
[author missing] (2012) The Urban Sociology Reader. 2nd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
[author missing]. The Urban Sociology Reader. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.