School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Communities And Cities

 

"The local area is not a community in any sense, in the highly urban areas of a city...Communication and participation are as apt to be segmented as in any formal organisation" (Scott Greer, The Emerging City, 1962)


Yes, and you aren't expected to marry your sister either, which is another good thing about not living in the countryside. Sociology has tended to make much of the contrast between the pre-capitalist rural community and the capitalist city, and has usually found the former to be desirable and the latter the source of most social problems. Both left- and right- wing thinkers have contributed to the denigration of city life in comparison with that of the countryside. Marxist sociologists have seen in the pre-capitalist community a haven from exploitation and the cash nexus. Conservative thinkers, if that isn't a contradiction, continue to eulogise the traditional countryside as a model of stability, social cohesion, respect and deference. Certainly, deference is alive and well, as evidenced by the large numbers of squires and peasants on the recent Countryside March in London.

However, the presentation of rural life - modern or pre-modern - as an idyll is a serious misrepresentation of actual social relations in the countryside. Poverty and exploitation are as much features of rural as of city life, the only difference is that the opportunities to escape from either are much more restricted in the countryside. Conflict, too, is a feature of rural communities, though often kept stifled by the close, restrictive nature of everyday existence there, which is far greater than any repression or monitoring that exists in the city. The very close social networks and face to face relations that are praised by sociologists as supportive can easily be turned into something paternalistic and restrictive. Try forming a trade union against the wishes of the local landowner/employer and see how far you get. Ask anyone who is black or gay where they would rather live, and you start to see why the word 'city' has the same Greek root as the word 'civilisation'. Indeed, Cardiff's own Tiger Bay was the only place where it was okay to be both black and Welsh.

Contrary to Scott Greer, quoted above, the city in fact contains a series of well organised, robust, social and community networks as resilient as any in the pre-modern community. The difference is that in the city individuals are able to construct their own networks, outwith the paternalist approval of the community. Hence it is the city that has been for the past century the repository of progressive thought and action - the women's movement, the labour movement, gay rights and so on.

'E ain't from these parts, squire, set the dogs on 'im.



Work On Communities And Cities Ferdinand Tonnies
Writings In Urban Sociology (External Link) On "Community" And "Society" (External Link)


These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010