When we wrote the first edition of Urban Sociology, Capitalism and Modernity in the early 1990s, the subject was at a turning point. During the 1970s urban sociology underwent something of a renaissance, particularly as a result of the Marxist-inspired work of Castells and his associates. In retrospect this school of thought can be seen as the last stand of classical urban sociology due to its concern to delineate precisely what the 'urban' was (or was not). The later 1970s and early 1980s saw a series of critiques of urban sociology (Mellor, 1977; Smith, 1979; Saunders, 1981), with the widespread and growing recognition that there were no distinctly 'urban' processes that could usefully be delineated from other kinds of spatial ones. The 1980s saw a remarkable new interest in the 'spatiality' of social life (e.g., Giddens, 1984; Gregory and Urry, 1985) but this tended to by-pass urban sociology, precisely because of its claims that spatial processes were omnipresent and not solely relevant to urban life.
Our book turned the tables on urban sociology by arguing that it was not of great interest to worry excessively about what precisely the 'urban' was. Rather, we argued that what had been seen as the weakness of urban sociology — its inability to provide a clear definition of the urban — could actually be seen as a strength. It was precisely the fragmentation, opaqueness and variability of modern social life that should inspire urban sociology. Cities, we claimed, were a contradictory interface between capitalism and modernity, and since this relationship was one of tension, it was inevitable that there could be no easy theoretical definition of the urban. We championed an urban sociology that understood cities as prime (though not the only) sites of modernity, and re-read the work of Simmel and Benjamin, and the early Chicago School urban sociologists, to recover their interest in cities as laboratories of modern social life. We also insisted, against purely cultural intepretations of urban life, that it remained important to contextualise cities in terms of their involvement in capitalist economic and social relations. Cities, then, were caught up in multiple tensions. Following Simmel, modernity could be seen as fragmentary and unstable: capitalism as a mode of production itself was prone to recurrent crises; and cities, at the interface between capitalism and modernity, signalled the inherently incomplete and unfinished nature of urban life.
In the decade that has passed since the writing of the first edition, subsequent events have largely confirmed our diagnosis. Indeed, the notorious attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City on 11 September 2001 exemplified the themes of our book. The attack destroyed a leading capitalist site, based in perhaps the leading 'world city'. Ordinary, routine, urban life of millions of New Yorkers was fundamentally ruptured by one dramatic event, indicating how our everyday lives are predicated on fragile underpinnings, especially in the complex urban centres of twenty-first-century capitalism. The attack itself seems to be an outcome of different cultural frames for interpreting and understanding the meaning of 'modernity' in a world dominated by American corporate capitalism.
This event crystallises a sense in much writing that the urban is a crucial site of contemporary social life. Instead of worrying about defining the urban, there is a wave of urban studies that crosses disciplines and subject-matter with breathtaking ease (see, e.g., Westwood and Taylor, 1997; Bridge and Watson, 2000c). Many academic disciplines have rediscovered their urban interests, for instance urban anthropology (Low, 2000), or literary studies (Tanner, 1996). There is a striking revival of popular, but serious, urban writing, in which location in specific kinds of cities matters. Consider the remarkable range of writing on and about London, from Ian Sinclair (1998) through Peter Ackroyd (1999) and Michael Moorcock (2001). Urban biographies of many cities have been written, all of them exploring the particularities of specific cities in a way that also highlights the distinctive role of urban imaginations in contemporary societies.
In short, the 1990s witnessed a flowering of interdisciplinary urban studies. Yet, whilst we celebrate this current, we think it important to relate the diversity of urban studies to some overarching themes — in our case the city as interface between capitalism and modernity. Indeed, recent scholarship has developed accounts of capitalism and modernity that are highly pertinent to our account. In place of the rather generic and almost celebratory approaches to modernity and late modernity that characterised debates in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the work of Berman, Giddens, and Beck, recent analysis has become more concerned with the particularity and problems of modern cultures. In this respect, a key figure has been Walter Benjamin, whose account of modernity is remarkably prescient for its attention to the embedding of the past in the modern, for its recognition of the role of the visual and consumption in modern life, and for his concern with the urban. For instance, Joel Kahn's book Modernity and Exclusion (2000) focuses on the different ways that modernity emerges in various national cultures according to the precise traditional cultures that it departs from.
Debates about capitalism have become somewhat less central than they were at the time of writing the first edition, when David Harvey's work, and that of the Regulation School in general, had a commanding influence (see Merrifield, 2000). The collapse of the Soviet bloc and the lack of viable alternatives to capitalism have in some respects muted debates. However, in other ways, analysis of capitalism has become ever more attuned to historical and spatial specificity of different modes of capital accumulation, for instance as manifested by Arrighi (1994). Contemporary analyses of capitalism are increasingly concerned with the role of consumption and the service sector in the accumulation process, and the urban context is often seen as a key zone (e.g. Scott, 1999). Perhaps the clearest indication of the close link between debates about capitalism and urbanism comes from the example of Manuel Castells in his The Network Society (1996). It is striking that it was a leading urban sociologist, drawing upon his urban expertise, who developed such an influential account of current globalisation. His analysis of the rise of corporate networks, the potential of new technologies, and the rise of new global elites, are all premised on his awareness of the distinctive role of world cities as key nodes in contemporary capitalism.
Whereas for much of the twentieth century, urban sociology tended to emphasise the mobile, fluctuating and fleeting aspects of social life, this situation has changed recently. The critique of structuralist sociology, and the popularity of post-structuralist approaches to social theory, as well as the rising interest in accounts of globalisation, have led to new currents of sociology emphasising the significance of flows and networks, rather than fixed structural locations (especially Urry, 2000). In our view, the relationship between fixity and mobility is a dialectical one that can never be fully resolved in favour of one of these poles. In view of the increasing interest in mobilities of one kind or another, urban sociology is increasingly likely to be important for insisting on the obduracy of place and role of fixed urban form in structuring social life.
In writing this second edition the authorship has changed to include Kevin Ward, an expert in urban, economic and political geography. Kevin's knowledge equips him to update material in these areas that neither of the original authors, Mike Savage and Alan Warde, are able. This change of authorship has not entailed a large-scale rewriting of the first edition. Since we think our general argument has been sustained by more recent work we have not made radical changes to this second edition. There is a minor change in that we have given greater prominence to debates regarding globalisation, and we have reduced our coverage of debates regarding post-modernism. Each chapter has been reworked, and arguments have been clarified where necessary. More usually we have cut material which is dated, and drawn on more recent urban research to illustrate and refine our position and to render our arguments more topical. The book now better reflects the remarkable flourishing of interdisciplinary studies of urban life and the appreciation of the social processes associated with globalisation which have required more attention being paid to spatial scale. We do not see our book as any kind of substitute for the exciting range of urban studies available today, but we hope it win be read in order to systematise and integrate topics that are often held apart.
Mike Savage Alan Warde Kevin Ward
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This second edition of this text on urban sociology takes into account contemporary theoretical debated and empirical research. Expanded and thoroughly revised throughout, it incorporates developments in the literature on urban inequality, urban culture, urban politics and globalization. It offers a comprehensive and up-to-the-minute account of its subject, ideal for study purposes at undergraduate level and beyond.