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An intellectual current and strand of social science writing which is critical of the city as a social form. Negative attitudes to urbanization—and the ‘pastoral myth’ of the countryside—predate the industrial revolution. However, as Robert Nisbet has observed, ‘revulsion for the city, fear of it as a force in culture, and forebodings with respect to the psychological conditions surrounding it’ date from the 19th century. While some radicals (notably Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) saw aspects of urbanization as socially progressive, for liberals and conservatives it posed problems of social control. Classical sociology reflected these concerns. According to Nisbet, ‘the city…form[ed] the context of most sociological propositions relating to disorganisation, alienation, and mental isolation—all stigmata of loss of community and membership’ (The Sociological Tradition, 1966).

The presumed breakdown of traditional communities in urban societies was a powerful theme in the work of Auguste Comte, Frédéric Le Play, and Émile Durkheim. More specifically, anti-urbanism affected the development of rural and urban sociology: Ferdinand Tönnies's suggestion that cities were prime locations for Gesellschaftlich (instrumental and associational) social relations was developed by Georg Simmel (The Metropolis and Mental Life, 1903), whose work strongly influenced the Chicago urban sociologists. Raymond Williams (The Country and the City, 1975) has shown that this has also been a theme in literary and historical writing, each generation feeling that it is uniquely poised at the point of communal breakdown.

Contemporary sociology largely rejects anti-urbanism. It is now generally recognized that the growth of cities, and the varied forms of social association occurring within them, are both consequences of the emergence of modern industrial societies. The city, in other words, is ‘a mirror of…history, class structure and culture’ (R. Glass, Clichés of Urban Doom, 1989). See also communitarianism, community studies.

Subjects: Social sciencesSociology

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