World Urbanization: Destiny and Reconceptualization

  • Avery M. Guest
Part of the International Handbooks of Population book series (IHOP, volume 3)


For most of human history, only small populations lived in cities. This changed dramatically about 200 years ago with the Industrial Revolution that involved the development of large-scale manufacturing as the key means of producing goods. Now, cities are rapidly becoming the dominant form of settlement in the world. The great majority is destined to live in population concentrations, and agriculturalists should be a small percentage of the workforce by the end of the century. As I will argue, these patterns are an almost inevitable consequence of striking changes in human technology and the social organization of societies. The story of world urbanization involves much more than staggering growth in numbers. In the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, cities were usually discrete entities with fairly clear demarcation of the boundary between urban and rural. In addition, urbanites typically lived at very high densities by the standards of recent years. Historically, political, social, and geographic boundaries of urban communities were typically coterminous. Now, urban populations live at increasingly low densities, and agglomerations spread out at long distance from their centers in spider-like patterns with ambiguous boundaries between urban and rural. The largest urban centers exert influences on the social character of their hinterlands, even hundreds of miles away. Major urban centers around the globe link with each other in complex patterns of exchange in ideas, goods, and services. The change in the importance and nature of urbanization will have important consequences for rural communities. Using conventional definitions, the proportion of rural populations (especially agricultural workers) will decline. But as the geographic distinction between urban and rural becomes increasingly ambiguous, the terms urban and rural may take on new definitions in relationship to each other. Indeed, the simple distinction between urban and rural may require a reconceptualization that involves the development of new categories.


Human Development Index Urban Growth Industrial Revolution Urban Agglomeration Urbanization Level 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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