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Historical Development of Cities | SOCY 327 – Week 2


In “The Metropolis and Mental Life“, Georg Simmel observes the over all issues of modern, urban life. He investigates the psychological aspect of living in the city, specifically the mental processes and how it affects their everyday lives and viewpoint. One of his primary claims is that city life leads to a lack of individuality because of the constant external stimuli that is present as well as the need to measure up to others. He also claims that the constant stimuli leads to increased stimuli, and thus also a lack of emotionality. Simmel’s main comparison between rural and urban communities includes that rural areas emphasize more emotional relationships because of the “slower, more habitual, more smoothly flowing rhythm of the sensory mental phase” (Simmel, pg. 12) compared to the mental processes of urban living individuals who are more fast paced and surfaced emotionally.

Money and economic matters is something that Simmel stressed as a key component of personality in urban communities. Every part urban life revolves around money; the motivation to obtain it, how much someone has of it, the kinds of material possessions a person has, etc. Because of the highly money motivated mindset paired with constant external stimuli present in urban areas, a “blasé” attitude is usually shown. This is essentially a flat, expressionless, and/or cold attitude or viewpoint towards the world.

Simmel offers the way in which to adapt to society around us is to simply try to understand the society around us. I agree with this view and it stands out to me because it seems as though if there’s no way you can single handedly change a society, the logical way to adapt is to be empathetic and attempt to understand and dissect society’s habits and mindsets. Whether an individual lives in a rural or urban community it is possible to imagine what life is like outside of your own world and try to understand how others live.


  • Karl Marx believed the economy plays an important role in the basis of how society functions as a whole. How the economy affects people (whether in a good or bad way) is a determinant of their life socially and politically. Marx also stressed how the modification and alterations of society over time is due to the interaction between the working class (the proletariats) and the capitalists (upper class).
  • Friedrich Engles along with Marx emphasized how city life encouraged people to eventually become more individualistic. Along with individualism, urban living would also cause a political and scientific revolution. He and Marx believed that the working class, though living in the city, would have a realization to fight against their problems (the upper class domination mainly).
  • Ferdinand Tonnies introduced and distinguished the terms “gemeinschaft” and “gesellschaft” or “community” and “society”. He viewed the community as the small towns who focus on unity and doing good things for others, while the society as larger cities that were all about selfishness and focused on individual agendas. Tonnies was one the first to study large cities sociologically and their impact on society as a whole.
  • Emile Durkheim had similar ideology as Tonnies (although their view on social unity was different) by differentiating two separate ideals, which in his case were mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. He defined mechanical solidarity as relationships that are formed based on commonalities and like-mindedness such as groups like families. Organic solidarity contrarily was based upon the differences between people and their dependence of others’ ideas. Durkheim highlighted that in order to help change the urban communities’ problems, that organic solidarity should be more prominent.
  • Georg Simmel focused on the mental implications that living in the city has on people as well the impact of money in cities. He argued that all of the intensified stimuli in the city causes the habitants to be more focused on only what’s important rationally and less of personal relationships. The obsession with money in the cities Simmel suggested was one of the biggest problems in urban areas.
  • Max Weber believed that previous sociologists like Simmel, Durkheim, Tonnies, etc. were doing a disservice the study of sociology by only studying urban areas of one country. Weber studied cities across the world and viewed urban sociology on a more broad scale. He emphasized that how urban cities operate is dependent on the culture of a given country.

Robert Park and Louis Wirth were instrumental in organizing the thoughts and theories of previous sociologists by coming up with characteristics that represented all cities. These two Chicago sociologists were the first to come up with the ideas that we now know as sum up as urban sociology.

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In a world of “fake news” and mass amounts of information at our fingertips, it’s hard to know what is a fact and what’s not. From a sociological viewpoint it can be difficult to know if social aspects are “facts”. Emile Durkheim was a French sociologists who emphasized what “social facts” were and how we should define them. Social facts are cultural norms and values such as the holidays you celebrate every year or even the norms such as the clothes you wear. He described social facts as “manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they can exercise control over”. Durkheim was important in introducing the thought of sociology as the connection between human behavior and the social situations that they’re subjected to.Image result for emile durkheim


Social Problems

One of the social problems present in urban cities is mental health. Habitants of the city are more likely to endure higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who live in rural areas, thus making poor mental health a major cause for concern in the cities. Durkheim studied mental health disorders such as suicide and its impact sociologically. He would look at the specific conditions of the cities that would lead to such poor mental health of those who live in cities. I think Durkheim’s ideology of focusing on the conditions would be important in getting to the root of what is causing mental health problems of people on a grand scale. We cannot get to the root of a problem without knowing the conditions that caused them in the first place.

Another social problem is the lack of proper public education in cities. Often city school buildings are less than adequate, over-crowded, and textbooks are outdated and falling apart among other issues. All of these things account for a major issue, as education is a crucial part of society’s proper functioning. Durkheim emphasized education as a major function of society’s advancement and would take issue with the lack of necessary tools in urban schools. I feel in order to allow a child to obtain a good education it is extremely necessary that they do so in buildings that are safe and with enough money to fund everything they need.





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