Discuss the functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist perspectives on urbanization and the growth of cities.
Perspectives on Urbanization and the Growth of Cities
Urban sociology follows in the tradition of early European sociological perspectives that compared social life with biological organisms or ecological processes. For example, Auguste Comte pointed out that cities are the “real organs” that make a society function. Emile Durkheim applied natural ecology to his analysis of mechanical solidarity, characterized by a simple division of labor and shared religious beliefs such as are found in small, agrarian societies, andorganic solidarity, characterized by interdependence based on the elaborate division of labor found in large, urban societies. These early analyses became the foundation for ecological models/functionalist perspectives in urban sociology.
Functionalistsexamine the interrelations among the parts that make up the whole; therefore, in studying the growth of cities, they emphasize the life cycle of urban growth. Like the social philosophers and sociologists before him, the University of Chicago sociologist Robert Park (1915) based his analysis of the city onhuman ecology—the study of the relationship between people and their physical environment. According to Park (1936), economic competition produces certain regularities in land-use patterns and population distributions. Applying Park’s idea to the study of urban land-use patterns, the sociologist Ernest W. Burgess (1925) developed the concentric zone model, an ideal construct that attempts to explain why some cities expand radially from a central business core.
Conflict theorists argue that cities do not grow or decline by chance. Rather, they are the product of specific decisions made by members of the capitalist class and political elites. These far-reaching decisions regarding land use and urban development benefit the members of some groups at the expense of others (see Castells, 1977/1972). Karl Marx suggested that cities are the arenas in which the intertwined processes of class conflict and capital accumulation take place; class consciousness and worker revolt are more likely to develop when workers are concentrated in urban areas.
Symbolic interactionists examine the experience of urban life. How does city life affect the people who live in a city? Some analysts answer this question positively; others are cynical about the effects of urban living on the individual.
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