Title: A critical discussion of the contributions and limitations of the Chicago School of urban Sociology to the study of urban social organisation.
The Chicago school is the name given to the work conducted at the University of Chicago since the 1890’s. In order to understand the contributions made by the Chicago School to the study or social organisation, it is important to understand the context in which the Chicago school emerged. This essay opens by sharing this contextual background on urban sociology. It then goes on to describe how urban ecology was considered to be the shaper and outcome of social interactions, with a focus on the work of Robert Park and its application in the work of Ernest Burgess. It follows with a discussion of the key principles used by Louis Wirth to explain the process of urbanisation. Examples are used from the reviews of critics such as Milla Alihan and Walter Firey to critically assess the limitations of the discussed work done by the ecologists’ at the Chicago School, as well as listing some reasons as to why it may or may not be applicable to today’s urban social organisations. The essay concludes by assessing the contributions as a response of these criticisms in the work of Homer Hoyt, Chauncy Harris and Edward Ullman. Contextual Background:
Academic studies of the city as a unique form of settlement space were rare up until the 1800s, when Max Weber, a German sociologist wrote an analysis that traced its history as a phenomenon of social organisation (Weber 1966). Soon after, the Anglo-German, Friedrich Engels wrote a critique of urban living under capitalism (Engles 1973). These efforts stood alone until the turn of the 20th Century. Just prior to World War I, the University of Chicago founded the very first departed of sociology in the US under the leadership of W.I Thomas and Albion Small, who had been a student of Weber (Gottdiener and Budd 2005). In 1913 they hired Robert Park, who possessed specific and strong interest in the urban conditions related to sociology and soon after, Ernest W. Burgess, another sociologist was hired and the two set about to study Chicago as an urban laboratory. Together they founded the first ‘school’ of urban analysis, the Chicago School. Human Ecology and the City:
Under the leadership of Park and Burgess, the city was seen as an ecological order (Wirth 1945). Their conception of the city as a social organism was based on the belief that the basic processes governing the city’s organisation are competition and symbiosis. In other words, the city’s underlying character is that of the community. However, within the city people have learned to compete with one another in groups, not just as individuals. So, above the communal organisation is a layer of societal cooperation. In this sense, a city can be perceived as a relatively closed habitat in which individuals and groups, who are dependent upon one another for their existence, compete for scarce resources. It should be noted that the exact nature of competitive relationships involved varies over time and with the changes in environmental conditions (Bardo & Hartman 1982). According to the Chicago school ecologists, humans exist in a habitat known as the community. A community is a population more or less attached to the territory it occupies. It lives in a symbiotic rather than societal relationship. A symbiotic relationship or symbiosis, refers to a condition of mutual interdependence that exists among carious units in a population, and no single unit can endure without continued existence of other units. A second condition was added to this that somewhat modified the nature of the symbiotic relationship. This was the acknowledgment that humans require certain resources (such as food and water) that do not occur in abundance in their environment. The demand for these substances was considered to be so great that it tends to outstrip that which can be possibly supplied (Bardo &...
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