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   Course Title    Sociology of Urban Living
Lecturer    Edmunds Supulis
Institution    University of Latvia
Country    Latvia

The course "Sociology of urban living" will deliver to students insight in studying cities and processes that take place in this environment, in such a way that students will be prepared for their own analysis of distinctions of modern society.

The course in the overall curriculum of the department

The sociology bachelor curriculum already contains the main branches of sociological investigations - sociology of family, youth and older people, politics, rural society and many others. This course - "Sociology of urban living"- will supplement the existing curriculum of the department with a special knowledge of particular - urban - social facts for students.

The urban place is, and will continue to be, a dominant characteristic of our society. Many problems are associated with it, but there are also many advantages and new possibilities that compensate these problems.

On the basis of core sociological perspectives, urban sociology focuses on the phenomena of human living in cities. The course introduces students to core urban issues. The course will also present ways to analyze and interpret cities, their people, their lifestyle and other things that happen in and with the urban milieu.

Teaching and learning methods used

  1. During lectures students are expected to participate in class discussion by answering questions, offering opinions, providing their own past experiences.
  2. Students have to identify main urban themes using content analysis of newspapers, and then interpretate founded city problems through a sociological point of view.
  3. Every student will be required to take one of the prepared chapters or papers on the matter and present that text to the class. The presentation (approximately 7-10 min.) will entail the student’s discussing the content of the chapter.
  4. There will be 2-3 in-class tests.


1. Lecture

Urban sociology - definition, object and themes.

As one of most remarkable urban sociologist - L.Wirth - noted: "The main task of urban sociology is to analyze social activities and forms of social organization that is typical for urban settings". Another founder of urban sociology - R. Park – defined it as a science about organization of people’s activities and social institutions within urban settings.

There are two main traditions regarding the object of the science: the view of the city as a separate entity with a life of its own; and another - the city being just a reflection of society at large.

The US is about to discover and explain the key forces (social, economic, political) that threat and form the urban environment, the way of life and the relationships of inhabitants. The main themes of urban sociology grow from this.

2. Lecture

The emergence of cities and THE process of world urbanizatioN

Cities appeared over 5000 years ago. Ancient cities were founded in different regions of the world, however, ‘the great urban revolution’ started in Europe. In the ‘first world’ urbanization was influenced by such factors as industrial, transport revolutions and population explosion. But in present days there is an evidence of a counter process – anti-urbanization and sub-urbanization.

There were very similar trends of urbanization in ‘the second/socialist world’. But one difference must been stressed - in Communist countries this process was much less drived by market forces and more centrally planned under state administration.

Lastly, the developing world’s urbanization is highly explosive and it brings deep social problems in urban settings.


Enyedi, G. 1996. Urbanization Under Socialism. In G. Andrusz, M. Harloe, and I. Szelenyi. Cities After Socialism: Urban and Regional Change and Conflict in Post-Socialist Society. Oxford: Blackwell, 100-118.


3. Lecture

Founders of sociology about city life.

  • E.Durkheim - mechanical solidarity of small preindustrial societies and organic solidarity of industrial/ urban society; transition from one to another and growth of anomie.
  • K.Marx (and F.Engels) - industrial city as reflection of ‘capitalist mode of production’ and sign of progress; the cradles of the labor movements, class consciousness and revolution.
  • M.Weber - analysis of ‘medieval city’; new culture and administration structures.
  • F.Tennis - concept of the "gemeinschaft/ gesellschaft" relationships as starting point of ‘community studies’; lost of the "community".
  • G.Simmel - "The Metropolis and Mental Life"; emerging of new type - urban - personality; "urban jungle" as a place of anonymity and creativity.


"Contribution and role of the founders of sociology to formation of urban sociology"


Weber, M. The City. New York: Free Press, 1966.

Simmel, G. The Metropolis and Mental Life. In The Sociology of Georg Simmel, edited by K. Wolff. New York: Free Press,1950

Toennies, F. Community and Society (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction,1963.

4. Lecture


Chicago school (1916-1940) - first and most prominent group of urban researchers; Chicago city as "laboratory" for sociological investigations.

  • R.Park - developer of ‘human ecology’; explanation of the urban world through the terms of biology (‘struggle for existence’) and sociology - ‘moral consensus’.
  • E.Burgess - theory of concentric urban zones; urban morphology.
  • L.Wirth - emphasis on cultural aspects of urban life (‘urban way of life’)


1. "What could be said in the case of Riga on the basis of human ecology?"

2. Discussion on Burgess's diagram of the five concentric rings

Text/ presentation:

R.Park "The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment". In The Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities. Ed. by R.Sennet, New Jersey, 1969.

L.Wirth "Urbanism as a Way of Life". In The Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities. Ed. by R.Sennet, New Jersey, 1969.

R.Redfield, M.Singer "The Cultural Role of Cities". In The Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities. Ed. by R.Sennet, New Jersey, 1969.

5. lecture


Criticism against ‘ecological’ and ‘functionalist’ perspectives. Urban crisis in the second half of 20.century. The rise of urban conflicts.

  • J.Rex, R.Moore - the concept of ‘housing classes’.
  • R.E.Pahl - controlling of urban resources by such key figures like managers, planers, bankers.
  • M.Castells - critics of previous urban sociology as ideology from Marxism perspective; his analysis of ‘collective consumption’ and urban planning.
  • Other issues of distinctive radical thinkers on city life.

Exam/ test "Foundations of urban sociology"

Text - presentation:

Castells, M. Theory and Ideology in Urban Sociology.





Social interaction and networks in urban settings. Definitions of neighborhoods and communities. Community studies and research. Three perspectives on communities within the city: lost, saved and transformed. Arguments associated with it. Land use. Inner city/ center and life in suburbs. Distribution of different social groups; segregation.


Katsuyoshi F. Networks as Resources. In Humanizing the City? Edinburgh, 1993.


Fischer, C. 1982. To Dwell Among Friends: Personal Networks in Town and City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press



National and municipal levels. Who governs? - Power structure of urban areas. Key actors: city municipalities, big enterprises, political parties, nongovernmental organizations. Competition among cities. Citizenship and participation.


Elliott B., McCrone D. Power and Protest in the City. In New Perspectives in Urban Change and Conflict. M.Harloe, London, 1981.

Saunders P. Community Power, Urban Manageralism and the ‘Local State’. In New Perspectives in Urban Change and Conflict. M.Harloe, London, 1981.

Watson S., Gibson K. Postmodern Politics and Planning. In Postmodern Cities and Spaces. Watson S., Gibson K., UK, 1995.


Hunter, F. 1963. Community Power Structure. Garden City, NY Doubleday, 60-114



Urban location is not an unvarying object; any place has a multiple reality for the plurality of groups. Space is humanized. Places have symbolic meaning. Thus one can identify different ‘existential’ regions - regions of security and regions of stress; regions of stimulus and understimulation; regions of status and those associated with stigma. Cognitive maps.

Discussion "Different locations of Riga city and their meanings for inhabitants".

Text/ presentation:

Shields R. Social Science and Postmodern Spatialisations. In Postmodernism and Social Sciences. J.Doherty etc, London, 1992.


Lynch, K. 1960. Image of the City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press



Social problems associated with urban people. Poverty and slums. Alienation, drugs, crime and health of city dwellers. Traffic, transports and pollution problems.

Responses to these by citizens, government and other organizations

Text/ presentation :

Urban Disasters and Megacities in a Risk Society. In Sociology: Introductory Readings. A.Giddens, UK, 1997.


Pathalogies of Urban Processes. Ed by K.E.Haynes etc. Finpublishers, 1985



Growth of the cities; illustrations of urban pasts and possible futures. Five emerging forms of city: headquarters city, innovation centre, module production place, Third World entrepot, retirement centers. The ‘global city’.

Text/ presentation :

Robson B. The 21st Century City. In Humanizing the City? Edinburgh, 1993.

Wallman S. Reframing Context - Pointers to the Postindustrial City. In Humanizing the City? Edinburgh, 1993.


Sassen, S. 1991. The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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