Urban sociology

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The urban sociology is concerned as a special sociology with the relationships between social groups in urban areas.

Their importance results from the fact that the modern industrial and service society as well as the urban growth in the “ Third World ” has made the urban population the numerically predominant population.


The conceptual-analytical intensification of urban sociology depends on what exactly is characterized as urban (urban). If the pure population density is the criterion, then many people within a few square kilometers are sufficient for the constitution of an object of urban sociology. With such a definition, however, the delimitation of the “typically urban” from the slum , from the camp or from the company's own factory housing estate is problematic. The urban (or urban space) is usually determined differently. With the help of additional political sociological criteria, Max Weber, for example, characterizes the city, which for him is a politically (often city-state) protected market place (see also the discussion on the polis ). With arguments related to mentality, Georg Simmel divides the big city into the big cities and the spiritual life . Louis Wirth emphasizes social heterogeneity in Urbanism as a way of life. From a network theoretical perspective, certain dense knots (clusters) of complementary functions can be defined as typically urban.

This analysis shows that not all cities that are politically and legally autonomous are “urban”. So William Bascom has the major villages in Nigeria as rus in urbe (Latin, something like: "Country in the City"), respectively. The same applies to the Prussian “industrial villages” in Upper Silesia or in the Ruhr area, such as B. Oberhausen , which did not become a town until 1901, when it already had 40,000 inhabitants, but largely consisted of a poorly structured cluster of collieries and mining settlements. The lack of urbanity criticized by urban sociology also applies to many of the “dormitory cities” built from high-rise buildings in the 1960s and 1970s. It is even more likely to apply to the huge accumulations of cheap accommodation caused by rural exodus such as in Africa (e.g. in Nouakchott ) or the monofunctional industrial settlements in Asia, especially in China, which usually lack self-government, due to the social and ethnic Tensions could be balanced. An accumulation and mere condensation of homogeneous functions (sleeping, working ...) as well as a purely administrative demarcation and independence does not constitute the essence of the city. Nonetheless, urban sociology also examines the agglomerations that cannot actually be called urban , cooperating with settlement sociology , social geography and, for example, migration research .

To the extent that urban sociology deals with “social problems” (e.g. so-called “problem areas”, rural exodus, slum formation ), it often refrains from fundamental urban sociological discussions, but deals with current and important research questions worldwide.

Subject history

An important forerunner of modern urban sociology is the social ecology developed by the Chicago School since 1920 .

The forerunner of urban sociology in France is Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe , who was influenced by the Chicago School and who early criticized the model of the separation of the urban functions of living, working and leisure as propagated by the Athens Charter .

Important impulses for the discussion of the city as a social phenomenon came from authors outside the discipline such as Lewis Mumford , Jane Jacobs , Alexander Mitscherlich and others. In Germany, after the legal instruments for area redevelopment were passed , the redevelopment areas and processes have been critically examined since the late 1960s.

In the 1970s, the New Urban Sociology emerged in a critical demarcation from the human ecology of the Chicago School , with Marxist approaches playing a central role ( Henri Lefebvre , Manuel Castells , David Harvey and others).

Since the 1980s there has been a discussion on the subject of gentrification that goes beyond urban sociology in the narrower sense . In connection with globalization , there was an extensive debate about the so-called global cities . Recently, the subject of megacities and their threatened slumness, exclusion and the informal economy has been increasingly taken up, according to the American urban researcher and historian Mike Davis.

Relations with other disciplines

Urban sociology overlaps with urban geography , urban planning , urban ecology , ethnological urban research ( Urban Anthropology ) and architecture . However, if spatial patterns or spatial systems are in the foreground, some representatives of urban sociology set the social, political and economic interaction of individuals or groups of different interests as central. There are overlaps with local political research, among other things, due to the “urban regime research” approach practiced in more English-speaking countries. Alliances between different groups of public and private actors are the focus here under the umbrella term of governance .

Current research approaches

One of the numerous current research approaches debated in Germany is the “Eigenlogik-Approach”. This differs from other perspectives within urban research in that it examines the specific and “typical” properties as well as the tacitly effective processes of the cultural formation of meaning in a city. The aim is to understand the basic structures of cities and to understand relationships and similarities between cities. The central methodological instrument is the comparison of cities.

A critical objection to this approach is that it removes the conditions of urban development from the political and economic framework and homogenizes the cities into fictitious cultural units without addressing the diverging interest structures within the cities, which result from the highly different social situations of their residents. So the work committed to this approach gets stuck in the description of local milieus (“localist” urban research).

Between these two research approaches stands the attempt to describe how certain social groups create their urban (sub) spaces themselves. Postmodern theorists see the city as a mirror, a stage that enables these groups to perform or as a retreat.

Other approaches generally question the city's ties to the city. The stage no longer needs a physical location, but is shifting from urban space to the media. Urbanity is detaching itself from its physical context and virtualizing itself more and more.

In the urban sociology of the USA, the interaction between ethnic groups, social classes, genders and lifestyles , economy, culture and politics is investigated in detail and integratively, partly using the instruments of the Chicago School .

See also


Current introductions

Subject history

further reading

Web links


  1. ^ Max Weber : Economy and Society. The economy and the social orders and powers. The town. In: Wilfried Nippel (Ed.): Max Weber Complete Edition . Volume 22.5, Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-16-147278-0 .
  2. Georg Simmel: The big cities and the intellectual life. In: Otthein Rammstedt (Ed.): Essays and treatises 1901–1908. (= Complete edition). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1995, pp. 116-131.
  3. Louis Wirth: Urbanism as a way of life. In: Albert J. Reiss, Jr. (Ed.): Louis Wirth on cities and social life; selected papers. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1964, pp. 60-83.
  4. ^ William Bascom: Urbanization Among the Yoruba. In: American Journal of Sociology. 1955.
  5. Ben Hillman: The Causes and Consequences of Rapid Urbanization in an Ethnically Diverse Region. In: China Perspectives. Issue 3, September 2013, pp. 25–32.
  6. See e.g. B. Katrin Zapf: Backward neighborhoods. Frankfurt am Main 1969.
  7. Compare as an early text on the topic: Sharon Zukin : Loft living: Culture and capital in urban change. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick / NJ 1982.
  8. ^ Saskia Sassen : The global city: New York, London, Tokyo. 2nd Edition. Princeton University Press, Princeton / NJ 2001.
  9. Mike Davis: Planet of the Slums. Association A, Berlin a. a. 2007.
  10. In this context, the approach of Urban Managerialism by RE Pahl (London 1970) is worth mentioning .
  11. Christopher Bahn, Petra Potz, Hedwig Rudolph: Urban Regime - Possibilities and Limits of the Approach. WZB discussion paper SP III 2003-201. WZB, Berlin 2003. (PDF)
  12. Helmut Berking, Martina Löw (Hrsg.): The self-logic of cities: New ways for urban research. Frankfurt am Main 2008.
  13. Jan Kemper, Anne Vogelpohl (Ed.): Raumproduktionen (= theory and social practice. Volume 13). Münster 2011, ISBN 978-3-89691-882-6 .
  14. See e.g. B. Susanne Frank: Inner suburbanization? Middle-class parents in the new inner-city family enclaves. In: Martin Kronauer, Walter Siebel (ed.): Polarized cities. Social inequality as a challenge for city politics. Frankfurt / New York 2013, pp. 69–89.
  15. Alain Bourdin, Frank Eckardt, Andrew Wood: The ortless city: About the virtualization of the urban. Bielefeld 2014, ISBN 978-3-8376-2746-6 .
  16. Ray Hutchison, Mark Gottdiener, Michael T. Ryan: The New Urban Sociology. Westview Press, Google E-Book 2014.