Population and Urbanization
Sociological Perspectives on Urban LifeUrban sociology is the study of social life and interactions in urban areas, using methods ranging from statistical analysis to ethnography.
Learning ObjectivesExplain urbanization in terms of functionalism and what the Chicago School understood to be some of the causes of urban social problems at that time
- Georg Simmel is widely considered to be the father of urban sociology, as he pioneered studies of the interrelation of space and social interaction.
- Urban sociology attempts to account for the interrelation of subcultures in urban areas, as well as the internal structures of segments of society.
- Like biological systems, urban subgroups are dependent on one another for healthy functioning and are also dynamic—that is, they flourish and decline based on political, economic, and social tides.
- alienation: Emotional isolation or dissociation.
- subculture: A portion of a culture distinguished from the larger society around it by its customs or other features.
After the Industrial Revolution sociologists such as Max Weber and Georg Simmel began to focus on the accelerating process of urbanization and the effects it had on feelings of social alienation and anonymity. Notably, Georg Simmel is widely considered to be the father of urban sociology for his contributions to the field in in works such as The Metropolis and Mental Life, published in 1903.
The Chicago SchoolThe Chicago School of Sociology is widely credited with institutionalizing urban sociology as a disciplinary sub-field through pioneering studies of urban spaces and social interactions. This group of sociologists studied the built urban environment in Chicago through the early twentieth century and they have left a lasting impact on the field, as subsequent researchers adopted qualitative methods such as ethnography and land-use mapping to theorize urban phenomena. The Chicago School combined sociological and anthropological theories to understand the interrelation of urban structures and micro-interactions in cities. The Chicago School sought to provide subjective meaning to how humans interact under structural, cultural and social conditions.
Scholars of the Chicago School originally focused around one integral question: How did an increase in urbanism during the time of the Industrial Revolution contribute to the magnification of then-contemporary social problems? Sociologists centered in Chicago due to its "tabula rasa" state (people's minds before they receive impressions gained from experience), having expanded from a small town of 10,000 in 1860 to a urban metropolis of two million in the next half decade. Along with this expansion came many of the era's emerging social problems, ranging from issues of homelessness and poor living conditions to the low-wage and long-hour work periods that many European immigrants faced upon arrival in the city. 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 that occupied the city center was surrounded by slums and blighted neighborhoods, which were further surrounded by working class homes and the early forms of the modern suburbs. Urban theorists suggested that these spatially-defined 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 twentieth century, many prominent early studies in urban sociology focused around the effects of carrying culture roles and norms into new and developing environments. Political participation and the rise in inter-community organizations were also highly followed in this period, with many metropolitan areas adopting census techniques that allowed for information to be stored and easily accessible by participating institutions such as the University of Chicago. Sociologists Park, Burgess and McKenzie, professors at the University of Chicago and three of the earliest proponents of urban sociology, developed subcultural theories, which helped to explain the role of local institutions in the formation of ties. Subcultural theories popularized the idea that segments of society, such as gangs and homeless populations, had internal systems of value and order. This theory was in contrast to the prevailing belief that urbanization produced only social disorganization and alienation.
Urban EcologyUrban ecology refers to an idea that emerged out of the Chicago School that likens urban organization to biological organisms. Urban ecology has remained an influential theory in both urban sociology and urban anthropology over time. The theory is essentially an extended metaphor that helps to explain how conflicting subgroups exist in shared urban spaces and systems. Like biological systems, urban subgroups are dependent on one another for healthy functioning and are also dynamic—that is, they flourish and decline based on political, economic, and social tides. Relating this to functionalist theory, one can look at immigration and emigration trends. As people enter and leave a country, they are dependent upon one another, as well as the new culture, to assimilate and enter into a new society. Immigrants become emigrants and vice-versa; in this way, the chain of life continues in terms of societal relations.
Social Interaction in Urban AreasSocial scientists have focused on social interactions in urban areas because cities bring together many cultural strands.
Learning ObjectivesDesign a research question using one of the four central approaches to the anthropological study of cities
- Urban areas impact individuals' relationships with one another. Economic problems and power dynamics are intensified in small spatial areas in which resources are scarce due to dense populations.
- Social scientists seek to understand how metropolitan social dynamics are distinct from those in other contexts.
- German sociologist Georg Simmel was a founding father of this sociological subfield. He gave a speech that analyzed the effects of urbanity on the mind of the individual, arguing that urban life irreversibly transforms one's mind.
- Social scientists ask two sets of questions about social life in urban areas. The first set asks how social interactions are shaped by urban environments, and the other asks more pointed questions about how the architecture and physical space of a city influence social interactions.
- sociology of space: The sociology of space is a sub-discipline of sociology that is concerned with the spatiality of society. It examines the constitution of spaces through action, as well as the dependence of action on spatial structures.
- sociology of architecture: Sociology of architecture is a term that describes the sociological study of either the built environment or the role and occupation of architects in modern societies.
- urban ecology model: In the urban ecology model, the social scientist considers how individuals interact with others in their urban community.
Social scientists have focused on social interactions in urban areas because cities have the unique capacity to bring together many cultural strands. Economic problems and power dynamics are intensified in small spatial areas in which resources are scarce due to dense populations. Further, cities operate as zones of confluence for economic relationships and other types of diversity as new ideas, people, and goods are constantly flowing through urban areas. As a result, the people there have to respond to new influences, often bringing dominant strains of culture to the fore. What does a particular group of people value? What can they tolerate? What do they revolt against? All of these questions play out in cities.
Despite the relatively recent ascent of urban sociology, sociologists have long studied the sociological implications of space. Georg Simmel, a German sociologist from the turn of the twentieth century, famously considered the social impact of urban environments in The Metropolis and Mental Life. Published in 1903, this work was originally given as one of a series of lectures on all aspects of city life by experts in various fields, ranging from science to religion to art. Simmel was originally asked to lecture on the role of intellectual life in Berlin, but he effectively reversed the topic in order to analyze the effects of urbanity on the mind of the individual. Simmel argues that urban life irreversibly transforms one's mind. Simmel does not say that these changes are negative, but writes that structural forces on socialization are particularly strong in an urban milieu.
Social scientists thus ask two sets of questions about social life in urban areas. The first set asks how social interactions are shaped by urban environments and how social interactions in urban environments are distinct from social interactions in other contexts. These are the types of questions asked by Simmel and urban anthropologists. The other strand of analysis asks more pointed questions about how the architecture and physical space of a city influence social interactions. This second set of questions is taken up by urban planners, architects, and, in the social sciences, by individuals who study the sociology of architecture and the sociology of space. Clearly, questions about social interactions in urban areas cluster loosely and are quite broad. However, it is clear that social dynamics are influenced by urbanity and sociologists intentionally study this field in broad terms to understand the multifaceted ways in which urban life influences society.
Urban NeighborhoodsNeighborhoods are small units of social organization within a larger social area, such as a city or town.
Learning ObjectivesName three classic qualities of a neighborhood
- Neighborhoods have historically existed in every large urban area.
- Neighborhood action tends to quickly produce visible results, particularly when compared to larger social units. Because neighborhood action involves interaction with others, such actions create stronger social ties among those inhabiting the area.
- Neighbors socialize one another through significant numbers of face-to-face interactions.
- The tendency of members of a neighborhood to share voting patterns and other views is called the neighborhood effect.
- In Canada and the United States, neighborhoods are often given official or semi-official status through neighborhood associations, neighborhood watches, or block watches.
- neighborhood effect: Individuals in neighborhoods tend to vote similarly.
- Social ties: Because neighborhood action involves others, such actions create stronger social ties amongst those inhabiting the area.
- neighborhood: A division of a municipality or region, formally or informally divided
In Canada and the United States, neighborhoods are often given official or semi-official status through neighborhood associations, neighborhood watches, or block watches. These may regulate such domestic matters as lawn care and fence height and provide other social services such as block parties, neighborhood parks, and community security.
Though neighborhoods are less strictly regulated by government officials, this is not to say that neighborhoods lack political power. Indeed, sociologists and political scientists have found that individuals in neighborhoods tend to vote similarly in what is referred to as the neighborhood effect. The voting preference of a neighborhood tends to be formed by consensus, where people tend to vote with the general trend the neighborhood. Of course, this is not to imply pure causation, but rather than individuals with similar voting preferences choose to live in the same area. Socialization within neighborhoods is quite significant, particularly when this form of socialization involves significant face-to-face interactions with one's neighbors.
Urban DeclineUrban decline is the process whereby a previously functioning city or neighborhood falls into disrepair.
Learning ObjectivesAnalyze the causes and solutions to urban decline experienced both during the Industrial Revolution and in America today
- It is often caused by a decline in the economic opportunities available in a particular city.
- The issues associated with the modern iteration of urban decline began during the Industrial Revolution, when many people moved to cities looking for industrial work, and then fell into poverty with economic changes and deindustrialization.
- Deindustrialization is the process of social and economic change caused by the removal or reduction of industrial capacity in a region that is known for its manufacturing industry.
- New Urbanism seeks to combat the economic and architectural problems associated with urban decline.
- In the United States, early government policies included "urban renewal" and the construction of large-scale housing projects for the poor.
- white flight: The large-scale migration of whites of various European ancestries, from racially mixed urban regions to more racially homogeneous suburban areas.
- deindustrialization: The loss or deprivation of industrial capacity or strength.
- blight: Anything that impedes growth or development, or spoils any other aspect of life.
CausesBut what causes urban decay? Though scholars can identify factors that contribute to urban decline, it is notoriously difficult to explain precisely why one urban area slips into decline and another with similar circumstances does not. That being said, urban decline results from some combination of socioeconomic decisions, such as the city's urban planning decisions, the poverty of the local populace, the construction of urban infrastructure (such as freeways, roads, and other elements of transportation), and the depopulation of peripheral lands by suburbanization.
Changes in means of transport, from public to private—or specifically from public trains to private motor cars—eliminated some advantages of living and working in the city and enabled suburbanization. Following World War II, political decisions in the U.S. further solidified the already growing trend of suburbanization. Many cities used city taxes to build new infrastructure in remote, racially-restricted suburban towns. Historically in the U.S., the white middle class gradually left the cities for suburban areas because of the perceived higher crime rates and dangers caused by African-American migration to northern cities after World War I; this demonstrates so-called white flight. This trend became more permanent with the construction of the Interstate Highway System under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1960s.
Recent CausesDeindustrialization, or the process of social and economic change caused by the removal or reduction of industrial capacity in a region that is known for its manufacturing industry, is one of the main recent causes for urban decline in the United States. Deindustrialization is a main culprit in creating the economic conditions that contribute to urban decline by pushing jobs outside of the main urban area. An example of deindustrialization and urban decline in the United States is Detroit. After free-trade agreements were instituted with less developed nations in the 1980s and 1990s, Detroit-based auto manufacturers relocated their production facilities to other areas where wages and working standards (and therefore costs of operation) were lower. Detroit and other industrial towns, such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, were once centers of production and associated with high standards of living. Today, they are associated with a high concentration of poverty, unemployment, abandoned buildings and noticeable isolation.
ResponseThe current response to urban decay has been positive public policy and urban design using the principles of New Urbanism. New Urbanism is an urban design movement that promotes walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and professional options. The movement came about in the U.S. in the 1980s and continues to have impact on urban planning.
HomelessnessHomelessness is a social problem, caused by structural inequalities and lack of resources, where certain individuals are at higher risk.
Learning ObjectivesExplain the various social factors that contribute to homelessness, including categories of high risk people
- Those at a higher risk of becoming homeless include veterans, people suffering from substance abuse or mental disorders, and the unemployed.
- Homelessness is a problem intimately associated with urban areas and the resource limitations that exist because of a populous urban environment.
- Social factors also contribute to homelessness, especially economic downturns, deinstitutionalization, and lack of family support.
- As with veterans, many individuals with substance abuse problems and mental disorders have difficulty finding work.
- homelessness: The condition of a person or persons living without a regular dwelling. People who are homeless are most often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, and adequate housing.
- Medicaid: U.S. government system for providing medical assistance to persons unable to afford medical treatments.
- deinstitutionalization: The process of abolishing a practice that has been considered a norm.
Homelessness is a social problem, due in large part to structural inequality and the maldistribution of resources. However, individual risk factors help explain why certain individuals become homeless instead of others. Those at a higher risk of becoming homeless include veterans, people suffering from substance abuse or mental disorders, and the unemployed.
Risk FactorsMany veterans return from war with insufficient training to successfully navigate the job market or with skills that are not in demand in the civilian world. They may also suffer from chronic physical or psychological conditions sustained in combat that make regular employment difficult. The federal government provides services to help veterans transition to civilian life, but some still struggle and, unable to find a job or to reintegrate, end up homeless.
Individuals with substance abuse problems and mental disorders represent a large number of the homeless. In the United States, 22 percent of the homeless have serious mental illnesses or are physically disabled, and 30 percent have substance abuse problems. Popular perception often blames the victim, suggesting these individuals are at fault for becoming homeless. However, this perspective denies structural elements that contribute to both homelessness and substance abuse.
Although most homeless people are single men, in tough economic times, families are at increased risk of homelessness due to unemployment. When unemployment rates increase, homelessness tends to increase, too. When markets crash, even families that appeared to be middle class may suddenly become homeless. In the United States, 23 percent of homeless people are families with children—the fastest growing segment of the homeless, due largely to the economic collapse in 2008.
Social CausesEconomic downturns are one of many social factors that cause homelessness. Urbanization itself may contribute to the problem. Cities must sustain a large population in a small area, which puts pressure on resources. In the United States, 71 percent of the homeless reside in urban areas.
Homeless people who suffer from substance abuse or mental illness often lack access to effective treatment options, a condition exacerbated by deinstitutionalization in the 1960s and 1970s. Prior to the 1960s, individuals with mental illness were frequently committed to long-term institutions, but deinstitutionalization closed these institutions in favor of community-based treatment. Unfortunately, many people released from these institutions had no place to go and wound up homeless.
Family support can provide a buffer against homelessness; those who lack support are at increased risk. Over half of children who "age out" of social systems such as foster care find themselves homeless. Social stigma also contributes to homelessness. Teenagers who become homeless have often run away from home or been thrown out by their parents, frequently because of their sexual orientation. A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress revealed that 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT.
SolutionsGiven its diverse and deeply entrenched causes, homelessness is hard to address. In the past, some purported solutions have been more attentive to the desires of privileged members of society than to the homeless; they have reinforced stigma and criminalized vagrancy in an attempt to sweep the problem under the rug. Rather than stigmatizing or criminalizing homeless individuals, a long-term approach to combat homelessness must focus on meeting the needs of the homeless. The most promising solutions are holistic approaches that combine housing, health care, and education, but such programs are limited. Instead, a policy patchwork provides some housing, some healthcare, and some education, but not a comprehensive plan.
Given the large percentage of homeless who suffer from illness, adequate health care is an essential component to ensuring that people stay off of the streets. But in the United States, most people get health insurance through employers, leaving the unemployed with inadequate access to healthcare. Medicaid was established to provide healthcare to the indigent, but Medicaid lacks funding to adequately meet homeless needs.
Education can provide homeless children a way out, but practical barriers, such as residency restrictions, medical record verification, and transportation issues, often keep homeless youth out of school. The McKinney-Vento Act attempts to overcome these barriers by mandating equal opportunity for a free public education for homeless students.
AlienationAlienation refers to the distancing of people from each other, from what is important and meaningful to them, or from themselves.
Learning ObjectivesCompare the theories of economic and social alienation posited by Marx, Simmel, Tönnies, and Durkheim
- Alienation has been primarily described in two ways: economic alienation, as articulated by Karl Max, or social alienation, as described by Émile Durkheim with his concept of anomie.
- Both economic and social alienation come to bear in urban environments as cities exacerbate the economic pressures associated with capitalism and create environments in which it is more difficult to attach oneself to a social structure.
- Social alienation was famously described by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in the late nineteenth century with his concept of anomie.
- Anomie describes a lack of social norms, or the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and his community ties, resulting in the fragmentation of social identity.
- alienation: Emotional isolation or dissociation.
- capitalism: A socio-economic system based on private property rights, including the private ownership of resources or capital, with economic decisions made largely through the operation of a market unregulated by the state.
- anomie: Alienation or social instability caused by erosion of standards and values.
Karl MarxMarx most clearly articulates his meaning of alienation in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844) and The German Ideology (1846). Here, Marx contends that alienation is endemic in any system based on capitalism. Marx argues that in emerging systems of capitalist industrial production, workers inevitably lose control of their lives and their selves by not having any control of their work. As a result, workers never become autonomous, self-realized human beings in any significant sense, except in the ways in which the bourgeoisie wants the worker to be realized. Marx refers to this as being alienated from one's work, and as such one's self.
Georg Simmel and Ferdinand TönniesLate-eighteenth-century German sociologist Georg Simmel, considered to be one of the founders of urban sociology, wrote The Philosophy of Money , describing how relationships are increasingly mediated by money. Simmel's colleague, Ferdinand Tönnies, authored Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (Community and Society ) about the loss of primary relationships, such as familial bonds, in favor of goal-oriented, secondary relationships in capitalist, urban environments.
Tönnies's work shifted from conceiving of alienation in economic terms to thinking of alienation in social terms. Of course, this transition is not so simple; Marx's work on economic alienation was fundamentally social in nature. However, many of Marx's predecessors focused on the social consequences of alienation where Marx emphasized the economic causes for alienation. Thus, the reorientation to social alienation did not represent a break in thinking on alienation, just a shift to new directions.
Émile DurkheimSocial alienation was famously described by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in the late nineteenth century with his concept of anomie. Anomie describes a lack of social norms, or the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and his community ties, resulting in the fragmentation of social identity. According to Durkheim, when one is caught in a normless state in society, one has no parameters to hold on to and, accordingly, cannot situate oneself within that society, and so becomes socially adrift and isolated. Durkeim writes that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for better or for worse, and more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed, and what is actually practicable in everyday life. Durkheim was writing at a time of sudden industrialization and mass movement of families from rural areas into urban areas. The sociocultural changes associated with such a move contributed to individuals feeling uncomfortable with their new environments, and feeling as though they could not easily place themselves in a social order.
The general principles outlined by Durkheim in his descriptions of anomie can be seen in any social context, including our own. Current debates about social alienation and anomie pop up in many social critiques of an increasingly technological world. Many popular critics and scholars have wondered if the development of a more robustly technological sociality, through mechanisms such as Facebook and multiplayer online gaming sites, can approximate the same positive consequences of more traditional, face-to-face socialization.
CommunityThe term community refers to a group of interacting people, living in some proximity, either in space, time, or relationship.
Learning ObjectivesDiagram examples of geimeinschaft, gesellschaft, mechanical solidarity, and organic solidarity within your own community or communities, keeping in mind that these concepts cannot always be neatly separated
- Members of communities share either proximity or interests.
- In the late nineteenth century, sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies theorized types of social groups by dividing human associations into gemeinschaft (communities) and gesellschaft ( societies ).
- Geimeinschaft are characterized by community members having shared views of society and close social ties. Gesellschaft are characterized by members having personal interest in being a member of society.
- Sociologist Émile Durkheim theorized community by understanding social solidarity in terms of mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity.
- Mechanical solidarity is the sense of community that comes about when members are relatively homogeneous.
- Organic solidarity comes about when individuals are mutually dependent upon one another.
- organic solidarity: It is social cohesion based upon the dependence individuals have on each other in more advanced societies.
- mechanical solidarity: It normally operates in "traditional" and small scale societies. In simpler societies (e.g., tribal), solidarity is usually based on kinship ties of familial networks.
- Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft: Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft are sociological categories introduced by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies for two normal types of human association.
Gemeinschaft and GesellschaftGerman sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies distinguished between two types of human association: gemeinschaft, or community; and gesellschaft, or society. In his 1887 book, aptly titled Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Tönnies argued that gemeinschaft is perceived to be a tighter and more cohesive social entity, due to the presence of a "unity of will." He added that family and kinship ties were the perfect expressions of gemeinschaft, but that other shared characteristics, such as living in the same place or believing the same things, could also result in the same sense of community that is the fundamental element of gemeinschaft. Gemeinschaften are broadly characterized by a moderate division of labor, strong personal relationships, strong families, and relatively simple social institutions. Governance does not need to be strong to enforce social norms due to a collective sense of loyalty that individuals feel for community, and an internal alignment and identification with the social norms.
Gesellschaft, on the other hand, is a group in which group members are motivated to take part in the group purely for reasons of self-interest. While individuals may come to identify with their societies, the larger association never takes precedence over the individual's self interest and, as such, these associations lack the same level of shared norms as gemeinschaft. Unlike gemeinschaften, gesellshcaften emphasize secondary relationships rather than familial ties, resulting in an individual feeling less of a bond and less loyalty to society at large. Social cohesion in gesellschaften typically derives more from an elaborate division of labor. Ultimately, Tönnies viewed gemeinschaft and gesellschaft as pure, sociological categories that are not represented in real life. In reality, all associations are a mix of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft.
Mechanical and Organic SolidarityIn 1893, French sociologist Émile Durkheim incorporated the ideas of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, particularly their influences on their respective divisions of labor, into his theory of social solidarity, published as The Division of Labor in Society. In this work, Durkheim establishes two types of social communities that correlate with types of society. Mechanical solidarity is a type of community in which social cohesion comes from the homogeneity of individuals. People feel connected, as though they are a part of a community, because they are similar. Mechanical solidarity speaks to the moderate division of labor and close resemblance in social norms exhibited by Tönnies's gemeinschaft.
Durkheim distinguished mechanical solidarity from organic solidarity, or a sense of community developed by the sense of interdependence that arises from specialization of work and complementary skills and interests between people. This mirrors Tönnies's gesellchaft. Industrialized societies build their senses of community by making people dependent upon one another due to highly specialized divisions of labor. For example, operating under a form of mechanical solidarity, Tina feels like she and Amy belong to the same community because they are both hunters. Under the parameters of organic solidarity, Tina and Amy feel like they belong to the same community because they perform different tasks and help one another. Tina hunts and Amy does not know how, but Amy knows how to build a house and Tina does not. Tina and Amy help each other, each providing a needed service for the other, and thus create a sense of social solidarity—a sense of community.
Noninvolvement and the Diffusion of ResponsibilityDiffusion of responsibility is a phenomenon in which a person is less likely to take responsibility for an action when others are present.
Learning ObjectivesGive examples of the bystander effect, diffusion of responsibility, and anomie in contemporary society
- The bystander effect refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim in an emergency situation when they believe that others are present and will assist.
- Alternatively, diffusion of responsibility can also encompass a person's refusal to take personal responsibility for their own actions, such as the "only following orders" defense used in the Nuremberg Trials.
- Refusal to assume personal responsibility for one's actions or inaction can result in one feeling alienated from society and feeling useless. These are characteristics of Durkheimian anomie.
- Refusal to assume personal responsibility for one's actions or inaction can result in one feeling alienated from society and feeling useless, characteristics of Durkheimian anomie.
- bystander effect: When someone is less likely to help another if other potential helpers are present.
- diffusion of responsibility: Diffusion of responsibility is a socio-psychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for an action (or for inaction) when others are present.
- anomie: Alienation or social instability caused by erosion of standards and values.