July 4, 2007

ethnographies of cities

While I've been preparing the lectures for urban geography this summer, I've come across so many ethnographies that I'd like to read some day - partly just for sheer enjoyment, partly to enhance my understanding of urban processes.

G. Sjoberg (1960), The Preindustrial City (challenges the Chicago School generalizations about urban life)
J. Feagin's case study of Houston (ditto the challenges)
Orum's study of Austin, possibly Urban Aff Q 1991.
H Gans, Books on Levittown and Boston's North End
Lynds, books on Muncie IND
W. Warner's book on my hometown (I read it when I was a teenager; I'd get much different things out of it now)

"The dependence on Chicago as a basis for generalizing about urban life is challenged by and today the generalizations of the Chicago School have come under attack from other perspectives: for example in Feagin's (1988) case study of Houston" (Feagin, Orum and Sjoberg 1991:44).

Updated 7/12/07
I was all excited to read Feagin's book Free Enterprise City: Houston in Political-Economic Perspective, especially chapter 2 "theories of urban development," which I thought would help me fit all my chaotic reading into a neatly organized package. Alas, it doesn't really do that.
Sjoberg's book is great, although it's more of a review of then-existing literature on pre-industrial cities. He takes some good jabs at his fellow sociologists - good fun. I am about halfway through. His purpose is to show the commonalities between pre-industrial cities, and show how they are different from industrial cities, using the comparative approach that he says has fallen out of favor in sociology. He rejects the Chicago School (especially Wirth) for failing to appreciate the importance of social organization in urban life (for them it's all anomie and disorder). He rejects the urban ecologists for thinking of technology as something "outside" human ecology rather than a product of human minds. He rejects the focus on cultural and social differences (between cities; idiographic?) of Firey, Kolb and Max Weber. He recognizes the importance of looking at power as a differentiating factor, but his main focus is technology as the main independent variable: "technology both requires and makes possible certain social forms. This viewpoint does not commit us to technological determinism, however, for recognized is the impact upon social structures of other variables - the city, cultural values, and social power - all of which can affect the patterning of technology itself" (7). [there's a certain Yoda-like structure to some of the sentences...]

Posted by otto0114 at July 4, 2007 11:51 AM