Once humans learned to harness the machine, everything changed. These changes were pronounced in European cities. The emerging factory system drew in a huge population and the cities exploded. With an overwhelming number of migrants, the cities could not provide adequate food, safe housing, sanitary facilities, medical care, or enough jobs. Poverty, crime, disease, and malnutrition increased. Friedrich Engels vividly described the appalling slum conditions that industrialization brought to Manchester, England, the first industrialized city. This is when urban sociology emerged. Sociology was born in Europe during the Industrial Revolution. The father of sociology is Auguste Comte. Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and others also sought to explain the great transformation wrought by urbanization and industrialization.
Karl Marx spent most of his adult life in England during the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, and he was among the first of the classical sociologists to analyze the transformation of European society. He argued passionately that the economic structure of society is the foundation upon which rests the name of the social, political, and spiritual aspects of life. He meant that the economic system serves as the base on which the social institutions of family, religion, and the political system take form.
German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies described two contrasting types of human social life: Gemeinschaft or “community”, which characterized the small country village; and Gesellschaft, or “society”, which characterized the large city. This typology had a lasting influence on urban sociology because it was one of the first theories to understand human settlements by means of a continuum.
Like Tonnies, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim witnessed the urban revolution of the nineteenth century. He also developed a model of contrasting types: his terms mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity are analogous to Tonnie’s Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Mechanical solidarity refers to social bonds based on likeness, on common belief and custom, common ritual and symbol. Organic solidarity describes a social order based on individual differences.
German sociologist Max Weber believed any theory that took account of cities in only one part of the world and at one point in time was of limited value. This concern proved to be his major methodological contribution to urban sociology.
All six theorists, Marx, Engels, Tonnies, Simmel and Durkheim all recognized that something distinctive exists about the city and the way of life it creates. All saw the city as increasing human choice, emphasizing rationality, utlizing a complex division of labor, and creating a unique experience for its inhabitants. This concern with the cities unique qualities has been a major focus of the discipline ever since. Marx and Engels emphasized economics and the problems of inequality and conflict. Tonnies, Durkheim, and Weber considered the social structure of the city. Simmel suggested the importance of the urban experience. Each made quite clear what he thought beneficial and what he considered detrimental in the city’s ability to produce a humane life for its population.
About the time of World War I, urban sociology began to develop in the United States. in 1830, Chicago was approaching a population of 2 million by 1900, and it was expanding both upward and outward. Chicago factories were the black smoky “flag” of prosperity, creating their share of severe problems along the way. It was in Chicago that the main elements of U.S urban sociology took form. Robert Park argued that urban research must be conducted by disciplined observation. He also conceived the city as a social organism, with distinct parts bound together by internal processes.
Urbanization is the population shift from rural to urban areas. Louis Wirth identified Urbanism as the distinctive model of life which is associated with the growth of cities. Wirth began his analysis by isolating several factors he argued were universal social characteristics of the city. He then began to deduce systematically the consequences of these factors for the character of urban social life. He said if the condition is present, then that condition will result. Large population, population density, and heterogeneous people are all variables in urbanism.
Claude Fischer introduced the subultural theory of urbanism, rejecting Wirth’s main point by insisting that the urban milieu strengthens, not destroys group relationships. He suggested that the size, density, and heterogeneity of cities are positive factors that promote cohesion and they are not negative elements causing alienation, disorganization, or depersonalization. Once in a city, people with similar, even unconventional, interests, values or behaviors seek out each other for their own meeting places and habitats. As they gather in sufficient size and density, they attain critical mass, that level needed to generate self-sustaining momentum.
A theory of social pathology and urban living is one of the most provocative ideas put forth by the classical theorists particularly Simmel, Park, and Wirth was that human beings react to increasing population density with a psychological disorder, such as mental illness, or antisocial behavior, such as crime or aggression. A second source of the alleged linkage between density and pathology is research that appears to have some bearing on the quality of urban life.