Sociology 2152A/B Chapter Notes - Chapter 3: Louis Wirth, Human Ecology, Urban Sociology

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Published on 21 Apr 2013
School
Western University
Department
Sociology
Course
Sociology 2152A/B
Chapter 3: Analyzing and Interpreting the City: Theory and Method
1
8 ‘recurrent threads and themes’ around which Urban Sociology revolves around
1) What it feels like to live in a modern city and whether there is any universal
‘urban’ experience;
2) Whether, by, contrast, places are distinctive and why people become attached
to them;
3) How urban life is affected by thee features of local social structure such as
class, gender, and ethnicity;
4) How informal bonds develop and to what extent affective (emotionally charged)
relationships with family, neighbours and friends are determined externally;
5) How to explain the history of urbanization and population concentration
6) The basic features of the spatial structures of cities and whether different
spatial arrangements generate distinctive modes of social interaction;
7) The nature of an solutions to ‘urban’ problems such as congestion, poverty,
and street violence
8) How urban politics are conducted, what influences political participation, and
what impact the state has on the daily life of its local citizens
A culturalist vs. a structural orientation; a spatial vs. an associational emphasis; a
realist versus a constructionists interpretation
Flanagan distinguishes between two distinct urban sociologies
o Culturalist orientation deals with the experiential aspect of cities, addressing how
urban life feels, how people react to living in an urban setting and how the city
organizes personal lives
o Structuralist orientation, holds that the ultimate cause of urban ways of thinking
and acting are found externally in wider patterns of power and wealth in society
Merrifield identified two different and conflicting features of the contemporary urban
world
o The sterile, profit-dominated exchange values embedded in globalized, capitalist
economies that can wreak havoc on urban life (‘urbanization’) and the more
socially rich, locally determined use (livability) values that urban life can potential
represent for human beings (‘urbanism’)
Second division among urban sociologists has revolved around the importance that
should be accorded physical (Geographical) space in explaining patterns of behaviour
o After 1970s, emphasized alternative, non-spatial forms of community, noting that
the great majority of city dwellers are far form isolated from one another, rather,
they are enmeshed in non-spatialized networks of family and friends
Third revolves around the degrees of realism embedded in urban phenomena
o Power to shape the physical and social space
o Do city dwellers have any degree of agency or power to shape the physical and
social space in which they reside and work, or is it rigidly predetermined by
ecological or economic factors beyond their immediate control?
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o Lives dictated by wealth, class and power or do people possess the capacity to
inscribe meaning on their thoughts and actions?
Urban researchers are increasingly embracing a ‘social constructionist’ interpretation that
depicts urban life as an ongoing negotiation of cultural meaning involving different
individuals, groups and organizations, each striving to make its own interpretations
hegemonic (dominant)
Since its emergence as a distinct subdiscipline in the 1920s and 1930s, the
sociological study of the city has been punctuated by 5 identifiable approaches: human
ecological; community studies; social interactionist; political economic and social
constructionist
Human ecological, political economic approach the status of full theoretical paradigms
Social interactionist more closely resemble methodological strategies equipped with some
basic underlying theoretical assumptions
The Beginnings of Sociological Interpretations of Cities: The Chicago School
Robert Parker wrote the city, a pioneering attempt to outline a scientific program for
understanding the essence of the industrial city both conceptually and empirically
o Advocated an agenda that favoured ‘sharp, researchable questions about
institutions and processes that could be immediately observed and investigated
o Came up with ‚Chicago School of Urban Sociology‛
Chicago School studies ma be divided into two distinct categories, reflecting the two
‘nested themes’ in Park’s thinking describing how the spatial features of the urban
environment centrally influence its organization and experience
o First, park was interested in the evolving physical form the city its different
types of land uses and the manner in which its various populations, services
and industries arrange themselves over space
o Inspired human ecology
o Second, Park believed that the city was composed of a constellation of different
social worlds or natural areas, each with its own distinct language, traditions,
and way of life
o Nurtured a way of studying local neighbourhoods and sub-communities that has
come to be called urban ethnography
Investigated in this manner were gangs, homeless men, and taxi dance
halls
Taxi Dance Halls
The taxi-dance hall catered to various male clients who were
considered marginal to more mainstream gendered relationships:
those who suffered from physical disabilities and members of
ethnic minority groups who faced facial discrimination, such as
Filipinos
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Chapter 3: Analyzing and Interpreting the City: Theory and Method
3
To early sociologists, the main story was the shift from a traditional rural way o life
to a modern, industrial social order
Gemeinshaft
(Ferdinand Tonnies) or mechanical solidarity (Emile Durkeim), social life
was characterized by an emphasis on kinship, village togetherness, and minimum of
diversity in language, work roles, and culture
o People obeyed the rules of social life because they would be shunned by
community
o Starting in 19th century, the populations of Europe and North America began to
shift from the small town and rural village to the burgeoning metropolis
Life in this
Gesellschaft
, or organic solidarity type, was demonstrably different
o The social cement formerly provided by church, family, work, and neighbourhood
seemed to be crumbling
o City dwellers put individual interest ahead of the collective good
o Money is the central arbiter of all relationships
o Social order is maintained by laws, (formal system of regulations, police,
courts and jails) instead of normative means
o Dependency was purely functional and based on a complex division of labour
o Residents of city performed specialized jobs (vs growing food, fixing
machinery)
First-generation urban sociologists were generally pessimistic about the impact of the
rural-urban shift on individuals and communities
o Blamed the city disruptions caused by the immigration and resettlement process,
they blamed the transition from rural village to big-city environment
o Harvey Zorbaugh spotlighted the lack of community in a rooming-house area on
the near-north side of Chicago, which he characterized as ‘a world of political
indifference, of laxity of conventional standards, of person and social
disorganization’
Concluded that there were no connecting tissue strong enough to hold
together the difference subpopulations within the city
Community was fractured by differences in social position, rising rates of
geographic mobility, and peoples preoccupation with their work lives and
careers
Restatement of Georg Simmel’s seminal essay ‚the Metropolis and
Mental Life‛
o Louis Wirth
Increasing size and population density characteristic of urban growth
crucially affect the city’s pattern of social organization, notably in terms
of leading to a higher degree of heterogeneity (diversity) both in
occupational roles and in social worlds.
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Document Summary

Chapter 3: analyzing and interpreting the city: theory and method 1. 8 recurrent threads and themes" around which urban sociology revolves around: what it feels like to live in a modern city and whether there is any universal. A culturalist vs. a structural orientation; a spatial vs. an associational emphasis; a realist versus a constructionists interpretation. Urban researchers are increasingly embracing a social constructionist" interpretation that depicts urban life as an ongoing negotiation of cultural meaning involving different individuals, groups and organizations, each striving to make its own interpretations hegemonic (dominant) Since its emergence as a distinct subdiscipline in the 1920s and 1930s, the sociological study of the city has been punctuated by 5 identifiable approaches: human ecological; community studies; social interactionist; political economic and social constructionist. Human ecological, political economic approach the status of full theoretical paradigms. Social interactionist more closely resemble methodological strategies equipped with some basic underlying theoretical assumptions.

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