Week 6: A Dualistic Vision

Grace Blackburn

SOCY327: Urban Sociology

Week 6: A Dualistic Vision: Robert Park and the Classical Ecological Theory of Social Inequality. Helmes-Hayes, Richard C. Sociological Quarterly, Vol 28, No. 3 (1987), pp. 387-409

The main claims which the author makes in the article, A Dualistic Vision: Robert Ezra Park and the Classical Ecological Theory of Social Inequality, is that social inequality was a central focus of the human ecological perspective and outlines the basic assumptions, intellectual origins, components, structure, and logic of the classical ecological account of inequality. The author is claiming that Robert Ezra Park revealed these aspects of ecological theory and social inequalities in his work, although his work was never completed. The purpose of this article is to contribute to the understanding of Chicago sociology and the early history of stratification studies in American sociology by outlining and assessing the classical ecological theory of social inequality revealed in the work of Robert Ezra Park.

The author claims that despite the substantial amount of critical attention focused on Park and his colleagues, the ecological contribution to the study of inequality has escaped analysis. Instead of focusing on the ecological contribution, struggle, competition, dominance, and hierarchy were focused on. Despite focusing on these areas, the study lacked the overall framework that ecological contribution offers.

There are four different parts that make up the interaction cycle. Those parts are competition, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation. The first stage, “biotic competition”, is the elementary, universal, and fundamental form of social interaction, explaining the unintentional struggle for existence. This explains wherein the system units struggle without any knowledge they are doing so, in order to achieve a secure place in the ecological community. It is only in the plant communities that the process of struggle takes place in a pure form. In the human community, struggle always occurs at more than just the unconscious biotic level of interaction. This spurs conflict. Conflict doesn’t begin until there is a struggle for survival. This then causes accommodation. One accommodates itself in order to survive through the struggle and then the conflict. The last cycle is assimilation, which happens once all the other cycles are complete.

Helmes-Hayes explains that Park attempts to differentiate between plants and human via the use of a distinction between community and a society. A community is the spatial organization of a population within a fixed geographic area according to principles of an all-out, unconscious biotic competition for space and resources. A society is different because a society is comprised of a hierarchy of three additional, interrelated, uniquely human levels or orders of interaction beyond biotic, i.e., economic, political, and moral. In this hierarchical relationship, the orders mirrors and mutually determines one another.

Social Darwinists believe that society is an organism. Its structure and functioning is directly analogous to biological structure and functioning. The law governing change of structure and function is the law of natural selection. The social structure that does exist at any given time is the best that could exist at that time, since it was a result of the competitive struggle for existence among the social forms. There are four ideas associated with social Darwinist. Those are the belief that inequality was considered to be natural and inevitable, the virtue of close fit, it consisted of an injunction against melioristic intervention, and it demonstrated the functionalist logic employed later by Parsons, i.e., that social change involved a process of progressive differentiation that created a variety of unconsciously evolved structures to fulfill the varies functional needs of society.

Another concept important to the ecologists’ account of inequality was the idea of “social disorganization”, a notion borrowed from SImmel via Thomas. For ecologists, “disorganization” was a persistent feature of the urban social order. Whether at the level of the individual-“personal disorganization”–or the group or neighborhood-“social disorganization”-the concept constituted a powerful descriptive and explanatory tool. They used it extensively in their accounts of criminality, deviant behavior, poverty, and so forth. It could be recognized in their view by patterns of group or individual behavior that were “pathological”: basically behaviors that were not congruent with dominant, generally middle-class, small-town norms.

I think that ecology theory fits most into the category of functionalist theory. Park argued that society was made up of many parts that contributed to the functioning of a society, therefore I think functionalist theory would be the most appropriate. According to what Parks believed, it appears that inequality does happen naturally through the process of life.

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