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Comparison of Urban Sociological Theories In order for an urban sociologist to discover “How urban societies work,” theories of “urban ecology” or “political economy” are used as a guide in their research. Urban ecology refers to the importance of social structure and social organization as shaping social life in the city. Urban ecologist concerns for social order, social cohesion, community ties and social differentiation offer key insight to how societies work (Kleniewski, 2001). Alternatively political economy stresses the use of power, domination and resources in the shaping of cities (Kleniewski, 2001).
Urban sociologists’ theoretical approach to research questions is based on fundamental assumptions that they find most useful for understanding the operation of the social world. Therefore researchers using these different theories will ask different questions, examine different data and interpret their findings in different ways (Kleniewski, 2001). In the early years of 1910-1920, a time of social change and urban growth, urban sociologists in the United States, the Chicago School, were directly confronted by the diversity, liveliness and apparent fragmentation of urban life.
The urban sociologists of the Chicago School drew a concern for order, cohesion and social relationships (Kleniewski, 2001). The founder of the Chicago School of urban sociology was Robert E. Park. He believed that cities are like living organisms, composed of interconnected parts and that each part relates to the structure of the city as a whole and to the other parts (Kleniewski, 2001). Park called his approach to urban life “human ecology,” a term used interchangeably with “urban ecology. Human ecology studies the “social norms” which are rooted in the relationship between human populations and the environment or territories they inhabit, stressing the orderly interaction of interdependent parts of social life in urban areas (Kleniewski, 2001).
Human ecologist, Louis Wirth shared with the theoretical antecedents of urban ecology, Tonnies, Durkheim and Simmel, the notion that social interactions in cities were different from social interactions in rural areas or small communities.
He believed that social interactions in modern industrial cities were impersonal and fragmented. He believed that factors such as size, density, and heterogeneity were responsible for social relations found in cities (Kleniewski, 2001). This theory of human ecology was used to study human behavior such as, lives of gang members, homeless people and immigrants and to study changing land uses over time in order to show how the different populations of the city adapt to and compete for territories (Kleniewski, 2001.
In comparison to urban ecology, political economy is concerned with how urban societies work. Although, political economist developed different understandings and interpretations of how urban societies actually work. In the 1970’s the city had many social problems which included welfare, unemployment and tax inflations. Theorist of political economy, Marx, Engels and Weber viewed the city as a site of struggle due to unequal distribution of resources (Kleniewski, 2001).
Therefore in contrast to the urban ecology theory of humans being immediately dependent on their environment, the theory of political economy stresses that the city relies not only on its environment but its social arrangement, economic and political functions. Also in contrast to urban ecology, residential patterns are not only influenced by humans just adapting to their natural environment but by economic inequalities. This leads to competition. In contrast to urban ecology, competition not just among groups for space but among groups for control of economic resources.
Political economists theorize that “social norms,” in contrast to urban ecology are not only influenced by size and density of the population but also influenced by the values of dominant groups (Kleniewski, 2001). These struggles or social forces help shape urban patterns and urban social life. Therefore, class, social status, political power, racial and ethnic conflicts also play a major role in shaping the city (Kleniewski, 2001). The Political Economy Perspective
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