Moving from Urban Sociology to the Sociology of the City

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    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).

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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.

  4. 4.

    The city itself is not a meaningful object of analysis – it is an arbitrary laboratory used to investigate other economic, social, and political phenomena (e.g. Sjoberg 1959; Saunders 1981).

  5. 5.

    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.

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    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.

  8. 8.

    Le Gales (2005) points out that the future of urban sociology lies in the development of comparative work.

  9. 9.

    While some scholars have questioned the sociological importance of the rural–urban continuum (Pahl 1966; Hauser 1965; Reissman 1970) others, from Durkheim, Tonnies and Weber to Sorokin, Maine, Redfield and Becker have all discussed the importance of the rural–urban distinction.

  10. 10.

    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.

  11. 11.

    Milgram et al. (1965) developed the lost letter technique to measure helping behavior using as a dependent variable subjects’ willingness to pick up and mail lost but stamped and addressed letters.

  12. 12.

    Florida (2002) links the presence of lesbians and gay men, among others, to urban growth. However, the concept of “gayborhood” entails the clustering of gay residents.

References

  1. Abbott, A. (1999). Department & discipline: Chicago sociology at one hundred. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ackroyd, P. (2001). London: The biography. New York: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Amin, A. (2007). Re‐thinking the urban social. City, 11(1), 100–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Anderson, E. (2000). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York: W.W. Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Appleyard, D., & Lintell, M. (1986). The environmental quality of city Streets: The residents’ viewpoint. In E. D. Boer (Ed.), Social aspects of transport planning (pp. 93–120). Oxford: Pergamon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bakker, L., & Dekker, K. (2012). Social trust in urban neighbourhoods: the effect of relative ethnic group position. Urban Studies, 49(10), 2031–2047.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Batty, M. (2008). The size, scale, and shape of cities. Science, 319(5864), 769–771.

  8. Becker, H. (1999). The Chicago school, so-called. Qualitative Sociology, 22(1), 3–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Best, J. (2001). Giving it away: the ironies of sociology’s place in academia. The American Sociologist, 32(1), 107–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bridges, F. S., & Rodriguez, W. I. (2000). Gay-friendly affiliation, community size, and color of address in return of lost letters. North American Journal of Psychology, 2(1), 39–46.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bridges, F. S., Welsh, R. L., Graves, B. S., & Sonn, M. B. (1997). Differences in lost letter and postal card returns from cities and smaller urban communities. Psychological Reports, 80(2), 363–368.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Bulmer, M. (1986). The Chicago school of sociology: Institutionalization, diversity, and the rise of sociological research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  13. Burgess, E. W. (1925). The growth of the city: An introduction to a research project. In R. E. Park & Burgess (Eds.), The city: Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the city environment (pp. 49–60). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Castells, M. (1968). Is there an urban sociology? Sociologie du Travail, 10(1), 72–90.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Castells, M. (1977). The urban question: A Marxist approach. London: Edward Arnold.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Castells, M. (1983). The city and the grassroots: A cross-cultural theory of urban social movements (No. 7). Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Castells, M. (2002). Conclusion: Urban sociology in the twenty-first century. In I. Susser (Ed.), The Castells reader on cities and social theory (pp. 390–406). Malden: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Clark, T. N. (Ed.). (2004). The city as an entertainment machine. Amsterdam: Elsevier/JAI.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Clark, T. N. (2012). Urban theory as context specification. American Sociological Association CUSS News Letter, 25(1), 1–15.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Clark, T. N. (2014). Can Tocqueville karaoke? Global contrasts of citizen participation, the arts and development. Bradford: Emerald Group Publishing.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  21. Clark, T. N., Lloyd, R., Wong, K. K., & Jain, P. (2002). Amenities drive urban growth. Journal of Urban Affairs, 24(5), 493–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Delhey, J., & Newton, K. (2003). Who trusts?: the origins of social trust in seven societies. European Societies, 5(2), 93–137.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Dewey, R. (1960). The rural–urban continuum: real but relatively unimportant. American Journal of Sociology, 66, 60–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Duneier, M. (1999). Sidewalk. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Durkheim, E. (1893). The division of labor in society. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Durkheim, E. (1982). The rules of sociological method. New York: Free Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  27. Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class. Cambridge: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Florida, R. (2014). The rise of the creative class–revisited: Revised and expanded. Cambridge: Basic books.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Fong, E., & Wilkes, R. (2003). Racial and ethnic residential patterns in Canada. Sociological Forum, 18(4), 577–602.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Gans, H. J. (2009). Some problems of and futures for urban sociology: toward a sociology of settlements. City & Community, 8(3), 211–219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Gieryn, T. F. (2000). A space for place in sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 463–496.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Glaeser, E. L., & Resseger, M. G. (2010). The complementarity between cities and skills*. Journal of Regional Science, 50(1), 221–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Glaeser, E. L., Laibson, D. I., Scheinkman, J. A., & Soutter, C. L. (2000). Measuring trust. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115, 811–846.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Gottdiener, M., & Feagin, J. R. (1988). The paradigm shift in urban sociology. Urban Affairs Review, 24(2), 163–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Grannis, R. (1998). The importance of trivial streets: residential streets and residential segregation. American Journal of Sociology, 103(6), 1530–1564.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Grannis, R. (2005). T‐Communities: pedestrian street networks and residential segregation in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. City & Community, 4(3), 295–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1360–1380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Grodach, C., & Loukaitou‐Sideris, A. (2007). Cultural development strategies and urban revitalization: a survey of US cities. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 13(4), 349–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Hampton, K. N., & Gupta, N. (2008). Community and social interaction in the wireless city: wi-fi use in public and semi-public spaces. New Media & Society, 10(6), 831–850.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Hampton, K. N., & Wellman, B. (2000). Examining community in the digital neighborhood: early results from Canada’s wired suburb. In Ishida, T., & Isbister, K. (Eds) Digital cities: technologies, experiences, and future perspectives (No. 1765). (pp. 194-208). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer Science & Business Media.

  42. Hampton, K., & Wellman, B. (2003). Neighboring in Netville: how the Internet supports community and social capital in a wired suburb. City & Community, 2(4), 277–311.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Harvey, D. (1985). The urbanization of capital: Studies in the history and theory of capitalist urbanization (Vol. 2). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Hauser, P. M. (1965). Observations on the urban-folk and urban–rural dichotomies as forms of Western ethnocentrism. In P. M. Hauser & L. F. Schnore (Eds.), The study of urbanisation (pp. 503–517). London: John Wiley and Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Jacobs, J. (1961). The life and death of great American cities. New York: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Jeong, H. (2015). Re-thinking public transit as a node for walking city: comparative study of transit zone in Chicago, Seoul, and Paris. PhD dissertation proposal, Illinois Institute of Technology.

  47. Jones, C. (2006). Paris: The biography of a city. New York: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Karp, D. A., Stone, G. P., & Yoels, W. C. (1977). Being urban: A social psychological view of city life. Lexington: Heath and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Kemeny, J. (1982). A critique and reformulation of the new urban sociology. Acta Sociologica, 25(4), 419–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Klinenberg, E. (2001). Dying alone: the social production of urban isolation. Ethnography, 2(4), 501–531.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Klinenberg, E. (2003). Heat wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Lauer, S. R. (2008). Exchange relationships in inshore fisheries. Sociological Forum, 23(3), 503–535.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Le Gales, P. (2005). Interesting times for urban sociology. Sociology, 39(2), 347–352.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (Vol. 142). Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Levin, A. (2014). Toronto: Biography of a city. Vancouver: Douglas & Mclntyre.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Lewis, J. D., & Weigert, A. (1985). Trust as a social reality. Social Forces, 63(4), 967–985.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Lloyd, R., & Clark, T. N. (2001). The city as an entertainment machine. Critical Perspectives on Urban Redevelopment, 6(3), 357–378.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Logan, J. R., & Molotch, H. L. (2007). Urban fortunes: The political economy of place. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  59. Luhmann, N. (1979). Trust and power: Two works by Niklas Luhmann. Chichester: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Luhmann, N. (2000). Familiarity, confidence, trust: Problems and alternatives. In Gambetta, D. (ed.) Trust: making and breaking cooperative relations (pp. 94–107). Electronic edition, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford.

  61. Magee, W., Fong, E., & Wilkes, R. (2008). Neighbourhood ethnic concentration and discrimination. Journal of Social Policy, 37(01), 37–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. May, T., & Perry, B. (Eds.) (2005). The future of urban sociology. Sociology, 39(2), 343–370.

  63. Mewes, J., & Mau, S. (2013). Globalization, socio-economic status and welfare chauvinism: European perspectives on attitudes toward the exclusion of immigrants. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 54(3), 228–245.

  64. Milgram, S., Mann, L., & Harter, S. (1965). The lost-letter technique: a tool of social research. Public Opinion Quarterly, 29(3), 437.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Molotch, H. (1976). The city as a growth machine: toward a political economy of place. American Journal of Sociology, 82, 309–332.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Molotch, H., & Logan, J. (1987). Urban fortunes: The political economy of place. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  67. Nichols, L. T. (2012). North Central Sociological Association presidential address. Renewing sociology: integral science, solidarity, and loving kindness. Sociological Focus, 45(4), 261–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Pahl, R. E. (1966). The rural–urban continumm. Sociologia Ruralis, 6(3), 299–329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Park, R. E. (1915). The city: suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the city environment. The American Journal of Sociology, 20(5), 577–612.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Park, R. E., Burgess, E. W., & McKenzie, R. D. (1925). The city. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1, 925

  71. Paxton, P. (2007). Association memberships and generalized trust: a multilevel model across 31 countries. Social Forces, 86(1), 47–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Peck, J. (2005). Struggling with the creative class. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 29(4), 740–770.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Perry, B., & Harding, A. (2002). The future of urban sociology: report of joint sessions of the British and American Sociological Associations. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 26(4), 844–853.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Putnam, R. D. (1995). Bowling alone: America's declining social capital. Journal of Democracy, 6(1), 65–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Putnam, R. D. (2001). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Reissman, L. (1970). The urban process. Glencoe: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Robinson, J. (2006). Ordinary cities: Between globalization and modernity. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Rothstein, B., & Uslaner, E. M. (2005). All for all: equality, corruption, and social trust. World Politics, 58(01), 41–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Sampson, R. J. (2012). Great American city: Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  80. Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277(5328), 918–924.

  81. Sassen, S. (2000). New frontiers facing urban sociology at the Millennium. The British Journal of Sociology, 51(1), 143–159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Sassen, S. (2001). The global city: NewYork, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  83. Sassen, S. (2005). Cities as strategic sites. Sociology, 39(2), 352–357.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Sassen, S. (2010). The city: its return as a lens for social theory. City, Culture and Society, 1(1), 3–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Saunders, P. (1981). Social theory and the urban question. London: Hutchinson.

  86. Scott, A. J., & Storper, M. (2014). The nature of cities: the scope and limits of urban theory. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.12134.

  87. Silver, N. (2015). The most diverse cities are often the most segregated. Retrieved from http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-most-diverse-cities-are-often-the-most-segregated/, May 6th, 2015.

  88. Silver, D., & Clark, T. N. (2010). Scenes: social context in an age of contingency. Social Forces, 88(5), 2293–2324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. Silver, D., & Clark, T. N. (2015). The power of scenes: quantities of amenities and qualities of places. Cultural Studies, 29(3), 425–449.

  90. Simmel, G. (1950). The sociology of Georg Simmel (Vol. 92892). New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  91. Sjoberg, G. (1959). Comparative urban sociology. In R. K. Merton, L. Broom, & L. S. Cottrell Jr. (Eds.), Sociology today: Problems and prospects (pp. 334–359). New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  92. Small, M. L. (2004). Villa Victoria: The transformation of social capital in a Boston barrio. Chicgao: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  93. Small, M. L. (2008). Four reasons to abandon the idea of “The Ghetto”. City & community, 7(4), 389–398.

  94. Sorokin, P. A. (1962). Society, culture, and personality: Their structure and dynamics. New York: Cooper Square Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  95. Sorokin, P. A., & Zimmerman, C. C. (1929). Principles of rural–urban sociology. New York: Henry Holt.

    Google Scholar 

  96. Storper, M., & Scott, A. J. (2009). Rethinking human capital, creativity and urban growth. Journal of Economic Geography, 9(2), 147–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  97. Sugrue, T. J. (2014). The origins of the urban crisis: Race and inequality in postwar Detroit. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  98. Tönnies, F. (1955). Community and association :(Gemeinschaft und gesellschaft). London: Routledge & Paul.

    Google Scholar 

  99. Turner, J. H. (2006). American sociology in chaos: differentiation without integration. The American Sociologist, 37(2), 15–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  100. Wacquant, L. (2008). Urban outcasts: A comparative sociology of advanced marginality. London: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  101. Walton, J. (1993). Urban sociology: the contribution and limits of political economy. Annual Review of Sociology, 19, 301–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  102. Weber, M. (1958). The city. New York: The Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  103. Wilkes, R. (2011). Re-thinking the decline in trust: a comparison of black and white Americans. Social Science Research, 40(6), 1596–1610.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  104. Wilkes, R. (2015). We trust in government, just not in yours: race, partisanship, and political trust, 1958–2012. Social Science Research, 49, 356–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  105. Wilkes, R., & Iceland, J. (2004). Hypersegregation in the twenty-first century. Demography, 41(1), 23–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  106. Wilson, W. (1987). The truly disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  107. Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a way of life. American Journal of Sociology, 44, 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  108. Zukin, S. (1980). A decade of the new urban sociology. Theory and Society, 9(4), 575–601.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  109. Zukin, S. (1998). Urban lifestyles: diversity and standardisation in spaces of consumption. Urban studies, 35(5–6), 825–839.

  110. Zukin, S. (2011). Is there an urban sociology? Questions on a field and a vision. Sociologica, 3, 1–18.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cary Wu.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Urban sociology
  • Sociology of the city
  • The city
  • Trust