Social Theory and the Urban Question


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Dr Saunders discusses current theoretical positions in the context of the work of Marx, Weber and Durkheim. He suggests that later writers have often misunderstood or ignored the arguments of these 'founding fathers' of the urban question. Dr Saunders uses his final chapter to apply the lessons learned from a review of their work in order to develop a new framework for urban social and political analysis. Learn More about VitalSource Bookshelf. The inductive analysis of a small number of cases is therefore sufficient to establish the common essential element of which each case is an expression.

Durkheim is careful to argue that the initial definition of social facts does not itself penetrate to their essence. All that is possible at this first stage is the identification of the surface features of phenomena: Social facts, in other words, leave visible traces which provide indications of their essence; different types of social solidarity, for example, give rise to and are therefore indicated by different types of law, so that it becomes possible to distinguish the moral basis of different societies by means of an initial definition of legal forms see below, pp.

Sociology therefore relies on observable phenomena as indicators of the essence of social facts, just as, say, the physicist relies on observation of the movement of mercury in a thermometer to indicate temperature. This argument, of course, assumes that there is a direct causal link between indicator and essence—that what we can observe is the direct expression of social facts that remain hidden.

In order to establish such a link, Durkheim advances two principles of causality. The first is that social phenomena have social causes: The explanation of social facts cannot therefore be reduced to an analysis of individual actions any more than the explanation of Social theory and the urban question 22 biological facts can be found in the analysis of the chemical composition of living organisms. It follows that there exists a distinct social reality which sociology alone can study, and that the causes of social phenomena cannot be sought through psychology or any other science: The second principle of causality is that any social fact has only one social cause: If there appear to be several causes, then this can only mean that there are, in fact, several different phenomena to be explained.

For example, if, as Durkheim suggests, there are three principal causes of suicide, then there must be three types of suicide corresponding to them. The morphological classification of social facts can therefore be followed by analysis of the causes of each of the facts identified. Taken together, the argument that social phenomena are sui generis, and that single facts have single causes, enables Durkheim to assert the inherent connection between visible indicators and the essences of which they are a function. To return to our previous example, if there are two types of law then there must be two distinct types of social phenomena that have given rise to them.

The question then is how are these social causes to be discovered? If a consistent correlation is found in a number of different cases, then a real relationship is to be assumed between them: Observable correlations therefore point to the existence of an essential causal relation. It is only at this point that theory plays a part in the analysis, for having demonstrated concomitant variation, the sociologist must attempt to explain it: When two phenomena vary directly with each other, this relationship must be accepted….

The results to which this method leads need, therefore, to be interpreted…. We shall first investigate, by the aid of deduction, how one of the two terms has produced the other; then we shall try to verify the result of this deduction with the aid of experiments, i.

If the deduction is possible and if the verification succeeds, we can regard the proof as completed Durkheim , p. The example given by Durkheim concerns the statistical relationship between levels of education and suicide rates. Since education cannot itself explain an increase in the Social theory, capitalism and the urban question 23 tendency to suicide, we must attempt to identify some common factor that can account for both.

Such a factor is the break-down of traditional religion, which increases both the desire for knowledge and the tendency towards suicide, and the task is then to show that wherever such religions have been eroded, both education and suicide increase accordingly. If this is demonstrated, then a sociological proof has been established. The first point to be noted is that the initial process of classification and identification of visible phenomena is itself dependent upon theoretically derived criteria. Classification is, however, a theory-dependent exercise.

There is, however, also a second problem which derives from his attempt to assert this postulate of phenomenalism while at the same time drawing the distinction between observable phenomena and their hidden essences. The existence of essences, and their relation to observable phenomena, is therefore pre-established in the assumptions on which the method is premised.

As Hirst shows, he can only assert the phenomenal as the basis of knowledge by positing an essence theoretically: This problem of the prior role of theory in positing the existence of an underlying essence as the basis for phenomenal forms is, in fact, explicitly recognized by Durkheim in his study of suicide There he argues that the method of morphological Social theory and the urban question 24 classification cannot be followed since it is not possible to identify different types of suicide on the basis of the empirical study of individual cases i.

He therefore proposes to reverse the order of study and to proceed from a theoretical identification of the different causes of suicide anomy, egoism and altruism to an empirical classification of the different types see pp. In other words, he assumes that his theory, which argues for three causes of suicide, is correct in order to identify different types of cases on the basis of which the theory can be tested.

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While he apparently sees this problem as specific to this particular analysis in that available data are inadequate for the purposes of classification , it is clear that his procedure in this study is in fact entailed in his very method, the difference being that the theory-dependency of classification and of the identification of the essential causes of phenomena is here made explicit. If he wishes to assert the theoretical neutrality of observation of social facts as the basis for subsequent sociological explanation, then there is no ground in his method for the identification of essences causally linked to such facts.

If, on the other hand, he wishes to assert the existence of an essential social reality to account for phenomenal appearances, then there is no basis in his method for rejecting the role of theory in constituting knowledge. The theme of the book concerns the moral basis of social solidarity, that is the social origins and foundation of the social cohesion of collective life.

The problem, however, is that the moral basis of social life is not itself directly observable. The resolution to this problem, in line with his methodological prescriptions, is to identify an observable indicator that reveals it: Social solidarity is a completely moral phenomenon which, taken by itself, does not lend itself to exact observation nor indeed to measurement. To proceed to this classification and this comparison, we must substitute for this internal fact which escapes us an external index which symbolizes it and study the former in the light of the latter.


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This visible symbol is law Durkheim , p. His argument, therefore, is that different types of law, which can he suggests be classified directly through observation, are the effects of different types of solidarity: Both are social in origin but their forms are different indicating that they arise from different social conditions. An offence against this collective morality is thus not merely an offence against an individual, but is a transgression of something that is felt to be sacred and above any individual. Repressive law is thus the means by which the collectivity avenges itself: Such a society is maintained and perpetuated on the basis of the similarity between its members, and challenges to this solidarity meet with a strong collective response through the use of repressive sanctions.

Restitutive law, by contrast, does not reflect a strong collective conscience although its origin remains social in that an offence against such law does not provoke a generalized moral outrage but merely an attempt to rectify the wrong that has been done. The only collective sentiment expressed in restitutive law relates to the ethic of individualism: In such a society, the force of collective sentiments has given way to a positive union of co-operation brought about by the social division of labour: The bonds of interdependence forged by the growth of the division of labour are infinitely stronger than the mechanical bonds of similarity, and the development of advanced societies is the history of the transition from the latter to the former.

Having classified the two types of social solidarity, Durkheim then considers the causes of the growth of the division of labour which brings about the transition from one to the other. It is at this point that the analysis of the city becomes important. His argument is that two factors give rise to an increased division of labour in society: The increase in moral density of a society is expressed through urbanization: In simple segmental societies characterized by only the most rudimentary division of labour and by mechanical bonds of solidarity, cities do not exist. The history of the advanced societies, on the other hand, reveals a continuous expansion of urban life which.

Urbanization, together with the associated development of new means of transportation and communication, is the cause of the division of labour. The reason is simple; a concentrated human population can survive only through differentiation of functions: There is, however, no guarantee that an increase in moral density will result in increased division of labour, since it may simply lead to, say, the collapse of the society or to the elimination of weaker competitors within it.

Moral density is, in other words, a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Here too, however, the development of the city performs an important role. This is because cities grow principally through immigration rather than through natural increase and thus attract new residents from surrounding areas whose attachment to traditional beliefs and values is thereby weakened: Indeed, great cities are the uncontested homes of progress… When society changes, it is generally after them and in imitation… no ground is more favourable to evolutions of all sorts.

And what these subsequent developments have also taken over from Durkheim is the recognition that, while the city is undoubtedly a force for progress and individual freedom, it may also become associated in the most vivid way with the pathological aspects of modern society. In other words, the erosion of collective morality that it entails may, in certain circumstances, result not in a new organic solidarity of interdependence, but in a state of moral deregulation or anomy. Where this occurs i. Given the role of the city as the primary force for change, it is naturally in the cities themselves that the anomic character of modern societies becomes most evident: The average number of suicides, of crimes of all sorts, can effectively serve to mark the intensity of immorality in a given society….

Given his commitment to a science of ethics, Durkheim attempts in The Division of Labour to diagnose the causes of this social malaise and to prescribe a remedy. The latter he finds in the establishment of a modern form of occupational guild system, nationally organized. However, as large-scale capitalist industry developed, so the urban corporation of merchants and traders became less and less suited to its organizational needs: While, as originally, merchants and workers had only the inhabitants of the city or its immediate environs for customers, which means as long as the market was principally local, the bodies of trades, with their municipal organization, answered all needs.

But it was no longer the same once great industry was born.

Social Theory and the Urban Question

As it had nothing especially urban about it, it could not adapt itself to a system which had not been made for it…An institution so entirely wrapped up in the commune as was the old corporation could not then be used to encompass and regulate a form of collective activity which was so completely foreign to the communal life Durkheim , p.

The erosion of the corporation of the Middle Ages which in France was finally completed in the Revolution of has, however, left a vacuum precisely at the time in history when economic life has become central to collective existence. This vacuum Social theory and the urban question 28 cannot be filled by the state, for it is too remote from individuals and is ill-equipped to regulate the complexity of modern economic relations.

Nor can it be filled by a resurrection of the medieval guild system, since this is totally inappropriate to a society in which the advanced division of labour has become extended far beyond the locality: There are not many organs which may be completely comprised within the limits of a determined district, no matter how far it extends. It almost always runs beyond them…. The manner of human grouping which results from the division of labour is thus very different from that which expresses the partition of the population in space.

The occupational environment does not coincide with the territorial environment any more than it does with the familial environment Durkheim , pp. It can, therefore, be filled only by nationally organized occupational corporations which alone can regulate the moral basis of economic life and thereby overcome the anomic condition of modern industrial societies.

It is clear from this argument that, like Marx and Weber, Durkheim does not consider the modern city relevant to the key concerns of social theory in advanced capitalist societies. Like them, he argues that it is only in the Middle Ages that the city was significant in itself since it was only during that period that it provided the organizational expression for functional economic interests. And just as Marx and Weber deny the theoretical significance of the modern city since for Marx it no longer expresses essential class relations, and for Weber it is no longer the basis for human association , so too Durkheim argues that the distinction between the city and the society as a whole in the modern period is no longer meaningful, that the society itself can now be likened to one great city p.

As he puts it, As advances are made in history, the organization which has territorial groups as its base village or city, district, province, etc. These geographic divisions are, for the most part, artificial and no longer awaken in us profound sentiments…. Our activity is extended quite beyond these groups which are too narrow for it, and, moreover, a good deal of what happens there leaves us indifferent Durkheim , pp. Like the other two theorists discussed in this chapter, Durkheim therefore addresses the urban question in two ways.

First, he sees the city as an historically significant condition for the development of particular social forces that is to say, it creates a social concentration which stimulates the division of labour, while at the same time it facilitates this development by breaking down the bonds of traditional morality ; second, he sees in the modern city the expression of the current abnormal development of these forces pathological disorganization reflecting the anomic state of modern society.

What appears as the most striking and, given the divergences in their methods, astonishing Social theory, capitalism and the urban question 29 feature of any comparative reading of the works of Marx, Weber and Durkheim in relation to the urban question is thus their unanimity in their approach to the city, for all three see the medieval city as historically significant while addressing the modern city simply as the most visible expression of developments in the society as a whole.

The lesson from these three writers should be clear.

What is URBAN SOCIOLOGY? What does URBAN SOCIOLOGY mean? URBAN SOCIOLOGY meaning & definition

There may or may not be a case for treating the city as an object of analysis in historical context. Even here, it is apparent that caution is needed, for in most places and at most times, the city has not functioned autonomously of the society of which it forms a part. The image of medieval urban autonomy is one which has been disputed e. But if caution is needed in the field of urban history, then the lesson from Marx, Weber and Durkheim is surely even stronger in the case of urban sociology, for there appears to be no coherent rationale for studying cities as such in the context of modern industrial societies where cities have seemingly lost all sociological significance.

As we shall see in the following chapters, urban sociologists over most of this century have ignored this lesson in their attempts to conceptualize contemporary urbanism. The result has, in most cases, been conceptual confusion and a series of theoretical dead-ends. Certainly human ecology was the first comprehensive urban social theory, and in the United States it has some claim to have been the first comprehensive sociological theory, for it developed at a time when American sociology was gaining institutional recognition as a discipline but lacked an indigenous body of theory.

From its very inception, therefore, human ecology exhibited a certain tension as regards the scope of its applicability. On the one hand, it was represented as a theory of the city and thus as an attempt to develop an explanation of patterns of city growth and urban culture. In this sense, human ecology could be seen as a sub-discipline within sociology with its own object of study; while some sociologists studied education and others studied the family, those interested in human ecology studied the city.

On the other hand, however, it claimed to be a discipline in its own right with its own distinctive body of theory. Indeed, the human ecologists argued that the ecological perspective addressed a problem that could not be subsumed under any other discipline, including sociology. Human biology studied the individual organism, human psychology the individual psyche, human geography the organization of space, and the various social sciences the different aspects, economic, political or cultural, of social organization.

Social Theory and the Urban Question - Peter Saunders - Google Книги

In contrast with all of these, human ecology was concerned with the specific theoretical problem of how human populations adapted to their environment. As we shall see, it then followed from this formulation that human ecology was the basic social science that established the framework within which economic, political and moral phenomena could be investigated. This tension between human ecology as an approach within urban sociology, and human ecology as a distinct and basic discipline within the social sciences, runs throughout the work of the Chicago school.

It is basically a tension between defining the perspective in terms of a concrete, physical, visible object of study—the community— and defining it in terms of a theoretically specific problem—the adaptation of human populations to their environment. Whenever Park addressed himself to such The urban as an ecological community 31 methodological questions which was not very often , he adopted, as Wirth suggests, the latter position, arguing that a science was defined by the theoretical problem it posed rather than the concrete object it studied.

Yet throughout his writings, Park nevertheless emphasized the ecological concern with the community as a visible and real entity. In the former case it refers to an empirical object of analysis, in the latter to a theoretical one. However, it does appear that two writers were especially significant. Just as Durkheim sought the conditions for social stability and cohesion in the subordination of the individual to the moral authority of society, so Park takes as his starting point the tension between individual freedom and social control.

Like Durkheim, Park explains personal and social disorganization in terms of the erosion of moral constraints, for Homo ecologicus is an inherently egoistical and unsocial creature who needs to be kept in check by society for his or her own good and for the good of others. Of course, Park recognized that the social control of human nature was not, and never could be, total. Indeed, in the same way that Durkheim noted that social disorganization within limits was the necessary price to be paid for human progress, and that too much moral constraint was as bad as too little since it resulted in individual fatalism and social stagnation, so Park found in the break-down of traditional moral controls a cause for both concern and celebration.

Yet on the other, he saw the potential for individual freedom and self-expression that the city represented, and he noted how disorganization could be seen as a prelude to reorganization at a new level of human organization involving new modes of social control.

Human nature and moral constraint thus constantly confronted each other, and it Social theory and the urban question 32 followed that any form of human organization was necessarily an expression of both. For Park, then, human society involves a double aspect. On the one hand, it is an expression of human nature, and this is revealed in the competition for survival in which relationships with others are entirely utilitarian a view that Park finds in the work of Herbert Spencer.

On the other, it is an expression of consensus and common purpose a view that he traces to Comte.


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As we shall see later, this distinction between community as the biotic level of social life and society as its cultural level proved highly problematic. The distinction is, however, basic to his ecological approach, for it enables Park to identify the peculiar concerns of human ecology in relation to the other social science disciplines.

The ecological approach to social relations, therefore, was characterized by an emphasis on the biotic as opposed to the cultural aspect of human interaction, the Spencerian rather than the Comtean view of social relations. This did not mean that human ecology denied the relevance of consensus and culture in the study of social life; only that it concentrated on the unconscious and asocial aspects as its specific area of interest. By thus delimiting the field of ecological inquiry, Park was able to draw upon the work of Darwin in order to show how the forces that shape plant and animal communities also play a significant role in the evolution of human communities.

This balance of nature was a product of the tooth and claw struggle for survival which served to regulate the population size of different species and to distribute them among different habitats according to their relative suitability. Competition for the basic resources of life thus resulted in the adaptation of different species to each other and to their environment and hence to the evolution of a relatively balanced ecological system based upon competitive co-operation among differentiated and specialized organisms. Needless to say, this was an entirely natural and The urban as an ecological community 33 spontaneous process.

Competition between individuals, he argued, gave rise to relations of competitive co-operation through differentiation of functions division of labour and the orderly spatial distribution of these functions to the areas for which they are best suited. His analysis, in other words, is both functional and spatial: Just as Durkheim argues that the transition from a relatively homogeneous to a relatively differentiated society is effected by an increase in material and moral density, so too Park suggests that an increase in population size within a given area, together with an extension of transport and communication networks, results in greater specialization of functions and thus stronger ties of interdependence.

Park then goes on to argue, however, that this functional differentiation is also expressed spatially, for competition not only stimulates a division of labour, but also distributes the different economic groups to different niches in the urban environment. The pattern of land use in the city therefore reveals the pattern of economic interdependence.

The ecological concept that explains the congruence between spatial and economic differentiation is that of dominance. The beech tree, for example, has achieved dominance over its natural habitat in the sense that only those plants, such as bluebells, that flower at a time when the tree has no leaves can flourish under its branches. In the human community, analogously, industry and commerce are dominant, for they can outbid other competitors for strategic central locations in the city.

The pressure for space at the centre therefore creates an area of high land values, and this determines the pattern of land values in every other area of the city, and thus the pattern of land use by different functional groups. Differences in land values are thus the mechanism by which different functional groups are distributed in space in an orderly, efficient yet unplanned manner. It follows from all this that the natural state of the ecological community, be it human or otherwise, is one of equilibrium. Basic to this conception are two assumptions.

The second is that the process of community change involves an evolution from the simple to the complex through the adaptive process of differentiation of functions. McKenzie argued that the size of any human community is limited by what it can produce and by the efficiency of its mode of distribution. Thus a primary service community such as one based on agriculture cannot grow beyond a population of around , whereas an industrial town can grow to many times that size provided its industries are serviced by an efficient system of market distribution. The community would then remain in this state of equilibrium until some new element e.

Competition, in other words, would again sift and sort the population functionally and spatially until a new climax stage was reached. Just as in nature one species succeeds another as the dominant life form in a particular area, so too in the human community the pattern of land use changes as areas are invaded by new competitors which are better adapted to the changed environmental conditions than the existing users. Such a process of invasion and succession is reflected in the human community in changes in land values with the result that competition for desirable sites forces out the economically weaker existing users e.

Following a successful invasion, a new equilibrium is then established and the successional sequence comes to an end. It is these related processes of competition, dominance, succession and invasion that provide the basis for the well-known model of community expansion proposed by Burgess He suggested that the city could be conceptualized ideally as consisting of five zones arranged in a pattern of concentric circles.

The expansion of the city occurred as a result of the invasion by each zone of the next outer zone, so that the central business district tended to expand into the surrounding inner-city zone of transition, which in turn tended to expand into the zone of working-class housing around it, and so on.

This physical process of succession therefore results in the segregation of different social groups in different parts of the city according to their suitability: This constant process of change and adjustment, invasion and succession, The urban as an ecological community 35 disorganization and reorganization, is especially marked in the inner-city zone of transition. The outward pressure of the central business district accelerates the deterioration of the area around it by increasing the value of surrounding land while threatening the existing housing stock, and existing inhabitants progressively move out while their place is taken by new migrants into the city who find their niche in the decaying properties.

In time, these migrants themselves move out and are replaced by later arrivals, and so the process of physical expansion and social turnover goes on. Burgess recognizes that mobility is therefore most pronounced in the inner-city areas that are in an almost constant state of flux, and he sees this as the explanation for the social disorganization crime, vice, poverty, etc. Mobility, in other words, is a source of change and of personal and social disorganization, and where mobility is greatest, so too is the lack of social cohesion and the demoralization of the human spirit.

All of these processes that we have described so far involve the natural and spontancous response of human populations to changes in the environment in which they live. However, we noted earlier that Park and his colleagues recognized that human populations had certain characteristics that were not shared by plant and animal communities. In particular, human beings enjoyed scope for mobility which plants did not possess, and they had a capacity for consciously changing their environment which had no parallel in the plant and animal worlds.

Human beings, in other words, shared a culture. According to the Chicago ecologists, the cultural aspect of human organization, which they associated with the concept of society as opposed to community, developed at the point where the biotic struggle for existence had established a natural equilibrium. Competition led naturally to one form of human organization by forcing increased functional and spatial differentiation and thereby creating utilitarian ties of mutual interdependence symbiosis. Once distributed functionally and territorially, however, the members of a human population were then in a position to develop new and qualitatively different bonds of cohesion based not on the necessities of the division of labour but on common goals, sentiments and values.

As Park writes, It is when, and to the extent that, competition declines that the kind of order which we call society may be said to exist. In short, society, from the ecological point of view, and in so far as it is a territorial unit, is just the area within which biotic competition has declined and the struggle for existence has assumed higher and more sublimated forms Park , pp.

There are therefore two types of human association: The distinction is that in the community, as in the case of the plant and animal community, the nexus which unites individuals of which the community is composed is some kind of symbiosis or some form of division of labour. A society, on the other hand, is constituted by a more intimate form of association based on communication, consensus and custom Park , p.

This does not mean, however, that at the level of society there is no competition or conflict, for although he never defines the term it is clear that for Park consensus refers to shared orientations rather than shared objectives, to a common frame of reference for action rather than universal agreement over what that action should be see Weber , appendix I, for a similar formulation of the concept. Thus Park suggests that, on the social level, competition takes the form of conflict , p. Competition is therefore mediated by culture, but the cultural form does not fundamentally alter the underlying biotic process.

Social Theory and the Urban Question offers a guide to, and a critical evaluation of key themes in contemporary urban social theory, as well as a re-examination of more traditional approaches in the light of recent developments and criticism. Dr Saunders discusses current theoretical positions in the context of the work of Marx, Weber and Durkheim. He suggests that later writers have often misunderstood or ignored the arguments of these 'founding fathers' of the urban question.

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