Week 13: Neighborhoods and Communities

Grace Blackburn

Week 13: Ch. 8- Neighborhoods and Communities

For Weber, social relations can be understood as communal, meaning the total involvement of the individual in the group, or associative, meaning marked by rational and less sustained individual involvement. During the 1920s and 1930s, urban sociologists were preoccupied by the question of whether urban settlement space, when contrasted with the rural way of life, produces differences in behavior. They believed that the intimacy of small-town life was the result of primary social relationships, while life in the city would force secondary or anonymous relations on individuals based on business considerations rather than friendship, with a consequent loss of community feeling.

The social disorganization perspective builds from an earlier view of life in the industrial city. The city itself, featuring the loss of community and demographic factors such as size and population density, produced a distinctive form of urban behavior. The replacement of personal relationships by secondary relations in the city contributes to the social disorganization theory. During the 1950s and 1960s, the demographics of the U.S. suburbs was characterized by single-family homes and households that were almost exclusively white. Suburban life was characterized by personal relationships, increased neighboring, strong family ties, and prevalence of younger households with children.

Herbert Gans categorizes the types of people that live in the city. The categories are: the cosmopolities, the ethnic villagers, the deprived, and the trapped. Gans explains that it is not the fact of residing in a city or suburb that has a determinant effect on everyday life, but the characteristics of the population living in particular suburbs or city neighborhoods.

The long standing tradition of sociological research on urban communities had its origins in the social study, associated with the settlement house and social reform movement at the end of the nineteenth century. By this time, many had become concerned about the housing and living conditions for the working class in the new industrial cities. Hull House was established by Jane Adams, in the near West Side neighborhood in Chicago with her college friend and partner Ellen Gates Star. They opened this facility as a settlement house, which eventually included kindergarten classes for children and night classes for adults, a public kitchen, and art and drama classes.

Community study is a distinctive genre of urban research developed in the U.S. The general concern of the research was similar to that of the earlier social survey, the community study also sought to apply more scientific methods to the study of the impacts of social change on everyday life in the industrial city. The community studies were meant to study poverty and living conditions amoung groups living in the industrial area. Social disorganization theory began to be questioned by scholars in the 1960’s and 1970’s. A series of neighborhood studies contradicted the social disorganization thesis of the early Chicago School. Eliot Liebow, Elijah Anderson, Ulf Hannerz, and Herbert Gans all conducted studies that provided a different alternative on the view of the social disorganization theory.

Scholars studied the working class with extended families ties to kin and those who lived within close proximity in the cities compared to the middle class nuclear family that resided in the suburbs. City based analyses tended to choose the working class or ethics to study. Claude Fischer claimed that the primary difference in city population was caused by background factors such as class, race, and location. The size of urban populations causes city dwellers to act differently than that of someone from a rural area.

Cities and suburbs are not just spaces where people organize their lives, they are also physical environments that are meaningful. All people carry with them a mental map of their daily routine that varies in its detailed knowledge of space. Often these maps are a function of power and class differences, or social stratification. One of the more common results from mental map research is that differences in both the conception and meaning of a local place are correlated with difference in social class. Differences in conception of space reflect social stratification and the perceived differences regarding power and class. Semiotics of public space explains the way we assign meaning to public space and to the groups of people we encounter in our everyday interactions within that space.

Neighboring studies are important because they are related to the issue of community and territory. There is a conception of everyday life that places individuals within a nurturing neighborhood of friends and relatives. A neighborhood can be defined as any sociospatial environment where primary relations among residents dominate. Community depends less on territory and is more a function of a network of friends and relatives dispersed in space.

There are five types of urban neighborhoods: The parochial neighborhood, the integral neighborhood, the diffuse neighborhood, the anomic neighborhood, and the stepping-stone neighborhood.

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