Castell’s claim that urban sociology has no subject matter has yet to be refuted. In this article, I argue that urban sociology should be understood as the sociology of the city. Rather than focusing on social problems within an urban context, urban sociologists need to treat the city as an autonomous social unit. The main task for the sociology of the city is to explain similarities and differences across individual cities and urban groups and to identify how these affect social life and collectivities. I illustrate this argument by exploring the urban production of trust. Treating the city as the unit of analysis, I show how trust matters for cities and how cities produce trust.
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The American Sociological Association set Cities of the Future as the overall theme of its annual meeting in 2001 and joint sessions were organized that same year at the British and American Sociological Associations conferences (BSA, ASA) to discuss the future of urban sociology (see also Perry and Harding 2002).
Chicago urban sociologists and their followers adopt a human ecology approach to the city, paying particular attention to the forms of social action and organization within the urban context (see e.g. Abbott 1999; Becker 1999; Bulmer 1986). Three pioneering texts - Park’s (1915) article The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the City Environment, Burgess’s (1925) The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project, and Wirth’s (1938) Urbanism as a Way of Life - laid the foundation for Chicago school sociology and urban sociology writ large.
Zukin was referring to Western cities and sociological writings on the city have largely neglected those cities in other parts of the world, for example, in socialist societies such as the former Soviet Union, and the contemporary People’s Republic of China.
Castells (1968: 36) has long insisted that the sociological study of the city cannot take place until we are clear about whether the city is a real object or whether it is a sociological entity.
Gans (2009) argues that American urban sociology is a big American city problem and issue-oriented sociology. Largely overlooked are the suburbs, towns, and rural areas where a majority of Americans live and work. He suggests that the future of urban sociology should be a “sociology of settlements” that would encompass all types of communities. This kind of focus could result in the sociology of everything.
While, in the near future, urban society will be nothing less than modern society as a whole, individual cities will always be just that individual: New York will always be New York and so too will Chicago, London, Moscow, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Beijing.
Le Gales (2005) points out that the future of urban sociology lies in the development of comparative work.
Similarly, Tönnies (1955) explains that rural society is a cluster of tightly knit neighbors held together by common economic and social bonds, in which family life is the general basis. Personal relationships depend heavily on kinship or other shared characteristics, such as belief and place. Norms are largely unwritten and individuals are bound to one another in a web of mutual acquaintanceship. However, as social orders move from the gemeinschaft to the gesellschaft type, social relationships become more formalized and impersonal.
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I thank Terry Clark, Sean Lauer, Lawrence Nichols and Rima Wilkes for their insightful comments and useful suggestions on earlier drafts. I also thank the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research at the Higher School of Economics (funded by a subsidy from the Government of the Russian Federation for the implementation of the Global Competitiveness Program).
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Wu, C. Moving from Urban Sociology to the Sociology of the City. Am Soc 47, 102–114 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-015-9277-6
- Urban sociology
- Sociology of the city
- The city