Urban Theory & the Urban Experience: Encountering the City

Urban Theory & the Urban Experience: Encountering the City

Urban Theory & the Urban Experience: Encountering the City

Urban Theory & the Urban Experience: Encountering the City


For the first time Urban Theory and the Urban Experience brings together classic and contemporary approaches to urban research in order to reveal the intellectual origins of urban studies, and the often unacknowledged debt that empirical and theoretical perspectives on the city owe to one another.Both students and urban scholars will appreciate the critical way in which classical and contemporary debates on the nature of the city are presented. Extensive use is made throughout of documentary, literary and cultural sources to bring the different theoretical perspectives to life. Discussion points introduce and explain key concepts and intellectual histories in a jargon free manner. End of chapter further readings have also been annotated to encourage additional study.


Weber, Simmel, Benjamin and Lefebvre

It is often said: stones instead of bread. Now these stones were the bread of my imagination, which was suddenly seized by a ravenous hunger to taste what is the same in all places and all countries.

Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street


At first sight, the intellectual concerns and development of the four writers under consideration in this chapter appear to have little in common. Max Weber wrote some of his most important contributions to sociology and sociological theory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while Henri Lefebvre began writing on the city in the 1930s and continued to produce important contributions right up to his death in 1991. Simmel and Benjamin on the other hand are, perhaps, rather easier to bracket. Both hailed from Berlin, and both were what, today, we would call 'inter-disciplinary' thinkers. They were as familiar with the major debates in philosophy as they were with the hugely exciting and far-reaching developments in every aspect of artistic and creative endeavour in the early decades of the twentieth century. However, although, like Benjamin, it is hard to pigeon-hole Simmel as essentially a sociologist, the latter certainly saw himself as a pioneering social scientist, even though he failed to achieve the same academic recognition as Weber, Tönnies or Durkheim. Walter Benjamin, also remained an outsider to the academic establishment, although he did at one time have aspirations to become a university professor. The fact that he never succeeded in this endeavour is partly attributable to Benjamin's notorious discomfort at working within prescribed disciplinary boundaries, and his work, in a sense, constituted a reproach to the methodologically conservative world of traditional philosophical and social enquiry.

However, while the critical perspectives of all four thinkers may have widely varied, it is their treatment of the city as an object of critical reflection that makes their work of continuing relevance to contemporary urban studies. This is not to say that the contribution made by each author is equivalent either in quantitative or qualitative terms. Max Weber's essay on the city is the only direct account of urban society produced by a classical sociologist (Durkheim and Marx both failed to give the city any special attention), and for that reason alone Weber must certainly be included among the key classical writers on urban morphology. But it is not as a historian of urban society that Weber is principally known, so much as the author of the monumental studies on the origins of capitalism The Protestant Ethic ([1905] 1985) and on the modern state and the social order in Economy and Society ([1922] 1968).

Perhaps even more than Weber, the work of Georg . . .

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