Social Theory and the Urban Question

Social Theory and the Urban Question

Social Theory and the Urban Question

Social Theory and the Urban Question

Excerpt

Most areas of sociology today are characterized by a certain degree of theoretical and methodological pluralism, and urban sociology is no exception. Thus there are distinctive Marxist urban sociologies, Weberian urban sociologies and so on, each differing according to the questions they pose and the criteria of adequacy or validity they adopt What seems to be peculiar to urban sociology, however, is that these various approaches have rarely paid much attention to what the so-called 'founding fathers' of the discipline actually wrote about the urban question. Contemporary Marxist urban theories, for example, make considerable references to Marx's discussions of the method of dialectical materialism, the theory of class struggle and the capitalist state and so on, but rarely pay much attention to his discussions of the town-country division or the role of the city in the development of capitalism. Similarly, Weberian urban sociology has tended simply to ignore Weber's essay on the city and to concentrate instead on his discussions of bureaucracy and social classes. Whereas other branches of the discipline have generally developed directly out of the substantive concerns of key nineteenth-and early twentieth-century European social theorists (for example, the debates within industrial sociology over alienation and anomy, the concern with the question of bureaucracy in organizational sociology, the discussions of the state and political power in political sociology, the recurrent concern with secularization in the sociology of religion and with ideology in the sociology of knowledge), urban sociology has continually underemphasized the work of these writers on the city, and has tended instead to take as its starting point the theory of human ecology developed at the University of Chicago in the years following the First World War.

The reason for this is not hard to find, for it is not that Marx, Weber, Durkheim and other significant social theorists had little to say about the city (far from it, for as Nisbet (1966) * has suggested, this was in some ways a key theme in the work of all these writers), but rather that

* Full references quoted in the text are contained in the References beginning on p. 369.

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