Urbanization in History: A Process of Dynamic Interactions

By A. M. Van Der Woude; Akira Hayami et al. | Go to book overview

20 The City Agent or Product of Urbanization

PAUL M. HOHENBERG

Department of Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York 12181, USA

In this chapter I shall attempt to distil a consensus from all the chapters contained in this volume. I shall also draw on the discussions that took place at the seminar, where the papers on which these chapters are based were first delivered. That this task has been entrusted to one who is not himself a demographer by profession suggests that my task is to look at some of the broader issues that have been raised. It should, however, be remembered that the core of this volume consists of the research efforts: it remains true, to recall Goethe, that 'God is in the details'.

In what follows, I shall offer a personal commentary on some of the issues that have been raised, rather than attempt a balanced or comprehensive summary. The unifying thread, however, will be the question of the city's autonomy, the extent to which in the past urban communities have controlled or conditioned population or other processes which, in turn, shaped their development. By focusing on urban autonomy, the historical continuity of urbanization will be emphasized, since earlier urban settlements compensated for their inferiority in numbers by their distinctive cultures and powers. In this connection, I can venture a single comment regarding the important issues of data and measurement, issues which are not otherwise dealt with here. I share de Vries's view that, on balance, the increase in urbanization has been overstated. In early modern Europe, for instance, the proportion of the population which lived in sub-threshold but genuine towns was quite substantial. Later incorporations of suburbs and satellite towns into larger agglomerations also bias the statistics in the direction of increased concentration.


1. Urbanization and the changing urban population

The inevitable preliminary question is: what do we mean here by urbanization? This question is put not because we want to be bogged down in definitions, issues relating to data, or sterile methodological controversies, but to bring out more clearly the context within which we focus on population dynamics. It seems useful to pose the issue by a series of questions, which

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