Week 5

“Human Ecology” [Robert Ezra Park]

In Park’s ‘Human Ecology’ he uses nature to explain the origins of community and society, and its function. In fact, he explains the connection between the biology of the natural world and its link to society when he states the following: “Every community has something of the character of an organic unit. It has a more or less definite structure and it has a life history in which juvenile, adult, and senile phases can be observed. If it is an organism, it is one of the organisms which are other organisms. It is, to use Spencer’s phrase, a superorganism (86).” There are several ideas here, first, Park recognizes that the structure found within most organisms themselves, and indeed most biological systems, can be found in many communities as well. Second, the more ‘complicated’, or complex the organism, the more likely it is to be of the ‘superorganism’ classification. And third, society itself could be labeled a ‘superorganism’ in its own rite, patterned similarly to a biological system in terms of cohesion and functioning of its major parts, and containing within it different stages of development—where the ‘juvenile, adult, and senile’ aspects of a superorganism, can be applied to the various stages of human growth as represented by those living in an actual community, or even the growth and evolution of the community itself.

Parks also highlights the inner workings of specific organisms within an environment—more specifically, he emphasizes that competition, dominance, and succession ultimately determine the landscape of nature, much as it determines the landscape of most cities: “The struggle of industries and commercial institutions for a strategic location determines in the long run the main outlines of the urban community (87).” ‘The struggle of industries and commercial institutions’ is nothing more than the struggle of independent organisms seeking to gain ground in an ideal environment where in the end the most successful entity gains the best ground.

Parks goes on to describe a key difference in the natural world as compared to the human one: the human world–aside from the human’s ability to manipulate her/his surroundings to better accommodate her/his lifestyle—is composed of not only the natural but also the cultural. He explains that it is the cultural aspect of the human existence that determines the order that we normally see in biology, and that the natural existence of the human actually lends itself the most to chaos.

“The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project” [Ernest W. Burgess]

In ‘The Growth of the City’ Burgess describes a natural phenomenon that occurs in response to human modernity—the growth of cities: “The outstanding fact of modern society is the growth of great cities (92).” Close attention must be paid, however, to the fact that Burgess describes the growth of ‘great cities’, not just cities, suggesting that at its core the bigger the city, the greater the social implications. In fact, Burgess himself attests to this when he points out that with the growth of great cities comes at the price of even greater social problems: “The more subtle changes in our social life, which in their cruder manifestations are termed “social problems”, problems that alarm and bewilder us, as divorce, delinquency, and social unrest, are to be found in their most acute forms in our largest American cities (92).”

With the idea of the growth of cities accompanying the growth of social problems, Burgess also introduces the concepts of aggregation and expansion. In terms of aggregation and expansion Burgess is directly addressing the process of the growth of cities; he emphasizes the physical growth of a city (93), or expansion, and the response to this growth in the amplified growth of the human population within these expanded cities—aggregation. The process of expansion in a growing city is referred to by Burgess as ‘succession’, a phenomenon also found in nature, that describes the expansion of a population that is physical cyclical, or circular in nature. Burgess refers to this growth pattern in terms of ‘zones’ (94), where the core of the growth pattern would be the area of interest, and all other growth expands and spreads, growing around the core in an ever widening circle.

Finally, Burgess describes the functioning of the growing, or major, city in terms of metabolism, or pulse. He combines the idea of organization, established growth, and metabolism—or sudden and/or severe changes within a city, as natural to the functioning of a large and growing city. What is more, he explains that while the metabolism, or these dramatic or drastic, changes within a city are not necessarily always good, or always bad they prove the pulse, or movement of a city. This pulse, or movement, is the hallmark of urbanity, the constant evolution, change and growth of a city is essentially proof of its health—its constant change leads to its constant expansion and growth.

“The Urban Process under Capitalism: A Framework for Analysis” [David Harvey]

In David Harvey’s “The Urban Process under Capitalism” a strange phenomenon is being described: the process of the growth of urbanity in response the struggle of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Harvey argues that capitalism, essentially the aggregation of wealth through the relentless draining of surplus from the work process is a major contributing factor in the actual evolution and growth of a city. He describes a precarious relationship not just between capitalists and their workers, but between capitalists themselves, capitalists and the cities in which their workers work, and the governments whose oversight influences the functioning of their businesses—and ultimately their profits. Harvey’s perspective of this capitalist model, or his view of the process of capitalism and of its effects on the surrounding environment in which these struggles take place actually build a city.

Harvey explains the challenges of capitalism in general; while the plight of the proletariat is a relatively straight forward one, the capitalist purview is quite different. Harvey explains that while capitalists enjoy the label of independence, their situations—especially where the pursuit of profits are concerned—is an interrelated, and sometimes complicated, tale. While the capitalist may lengthen the workday, or glean profits from the worker by any means, the response of the proletariat is to fight for their own rights in the bargain, and the benefits of the city are collected lies in what is negotiating between the two parties for capitalism’s ultimate goal. For example, the union argues for better working wages and improved living conditions (“fix the sidewalks”), ultimately results in increased wages, longer working hours, and an improved city landscape. In this way the bourgeoisie is not free to manipulate situations to benefit themselves only in terms of profits, ultimately everyone—including the city—must ‘benefit’ if profits are to be had.

Lin, Jan and Mele, Christopher (Eds.) (2013). The Urban Sociology Reader (2nd ed).

3 thoughts on “Week 5”

  1. Parks-functionalist. Characteristics of community include a population, rooted in the soil it occupies and residents living mutual interdependently (p. 85). Due to changes in nature people have to adapt in order to survive, he uses the example of the boll weevil. When the system we are use to using no longer works we must go through a change process in order to survive. Typically areas in the heart of the city have higher land prices/values.

  2. Burgess-discusses how transportation assist with the concentric zone movement of settlement space. Historically, immigrants settled in zone 1 and as they began to work and move up the hierarchy they have been able to move to zone 2 or 3. Disorganization is natural as mobility begins.

  3. Harvey- explains city growth in a Marxist method e.g. capital. He discusses the primary, secondary and tertiary circuits of capital. Capitalist, while being very individualistic can hinder their entire social class with surplus, etc.

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