Urban Life and Society

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9780130216052: Urban Life and Society

Urban Life and Society is a comprehensive and readable overview of the entire field of urban sociology. It provides a very well balanced introduction to all of the major approaches and perspectives. The book pays homage to the traditional “classic” works in the field, while also focusing on some of the most recent theoretical and empirical work available. Updated materials, from the perspective of the NEW URBAN SOCIOLOGY, or THE POLITICAL ECOMOMY APPROACH, as it is increasingly coming to be called, are most directly represented in the two separate chapters on urban economic institutions and political institutions, but also material on the new urban sociology approach is integrated into the most relevant sections. A historical perspective provides the reader with a clear picture of the process of urbanization process—past, present, and future: from the first cities to the emergence of the early Egyptian, Greek, Roman civilizations; continuing through urban developments throughout the feudal, medieval, and renaissance periods of European urbanization. For anyone interested in urban sociology.

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This book was first undertaken as a revision of an earlier work, The Sociology of Urban Life (1982). However, the large amount of time that has since elapsed, along with the vast changes that have occurred in the urban world, in the field of urban sociology, and in my own thinking on this subject, has led to this fresh new book. While some of the more basic and valid materials from the original book have been retained, particularly in the early chapters on the long history of urban development up to the middle of the twentieth century, the rest of the book has been revised, updated, and rewritten. Several previous chapters have been reorganized, reformulated, or dropped, and one completely new chapter has been added. Equally significant, updated materials from the perspectives of the "new urban sociology," or "political economy" have also been added. This is reflected most directly in the two separate chapters on urban economic institutions and political institutions. Rather than being confined to just these two chapters, and segregated from other parts of the book, materials on the new urban sociology and political economy are also integrated into many other chapters, where they are most relevant.

The overall goal of this book is to provide a more comprehensive view of the broad field of urban sociology through a more balanced approach, providing exposure to all of the major theoretical perspectives that have, over time, defined the field's core concepts, as well as the ever changing boundaries. The author of such an approach is sometimes tempted to present an eclectic assortment of topics, in the hope that nothing significant will be left out. On the other hand, there is an equally compelling temptation to provide a more limited and focused perspective, with the risk that the greater selectivity of materials will provide a far less comprehensive overview of the field than usually called for by "survey" type courses common to urban sociology.

This book attempts to avoid the extremes suggested above. Of necessity, urban sociology remains a highly speculative and interpretive field, requiring the synthesis of a vast assortment of theories, concepts, data, and research findings. But such a synthesis ideally must provide a workable balance between focus and breadth, and between extreme eclecticism and rigid systemization. Hopefully, this balance has been achieved by the introduction to six major perspectives as the book's guiding frame of reference. They include: 1) the social change perspective; 2) the ecological perspective; 3) the social structure perspective; 4) the cultural (and social-psychological) perspective; 5) the social problems perspective; and 6) the social policy perspective. In turn, these perspectives are presented in the context of past, present, and projected future ,urban development, and with a concern for the quality of life in cities, suburbs, and metropolitan areas. The above perspectives are implied or assumed throughout the book rather than spelled out in every instance, but they are defined and explained in more detail in the introductory chapter.

Somewhat unique to this book (as part of the social structure perspective) are separate chapters on urban social institutions, including contemporary economic, political, welfare, and educational institutions, which developed in response to the demands and expectations of modern urban civilization. On the other hand, the survival of traditional social institutions, such as religion and the family, which are preurban in their origins, is often severely challenged by modern urbanization, and, as a result, these institutions have become significantly modified in urban societies. These two rapidly changing urban institutions are discussed in some detail in a separate chapter.

While urban sociology had traditionally focused entirely on cities, anal more recently on the wider range of cities, suburbs, and metropolitan areas, it is now widely recognized that all parts of entire societies, such as American society, are indirectly, if not directly, affected by the process of urbanization. Thus, it is entirely appropriate to focus on urban societies, as well as on the more traditional topics of urban sociology, as does this book; hence the title, Urban Life and Society.

Finally, in addition to a guiding frame of reference, a wide variety of other student needs were taken into account in writing this book. These include an appropriate reading level, clarity of presentation, logical organization, sufficient explanation and illustration, and the need to maintain a high level of interest. But for potential instructors, the author has relied on his strong belief, based on many years of experience teaching courses in urban sociology and on reactions to his earlier book on the subject, that most instructors will prefer to supply their own anecdotes and experiences in presenting and explaining course materials to their students. Therefore, this book does not pretend to "teach," in place of the teacher's own inputs. Having prepared a very comprehensive and wide range of topics for this book, the author also understands that many, if not most instructors, will not attempt to assign or cover the entire book in a single course. On the positive side, however, the breadth of this book will hopefully provide instructors with some flexibility in choosing which topics they wish to cover.

Harry Gold
Professor Emeritus
Oakland University

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