||Relating to towns and cities. If urbanization is treated as a demographic phenomenon only, urban places are those which exceed the thresholds of population size and/or density frequently used in census definitions. If urbanization is also considered as both a structural and a behavioural process, however, then urban places are those above a certain size and density, performing particular economic functions within the spatial division of labour and with their own particular life styles.
The study of urban places is central to many social sciences, including geography, because of their importance not only in the distribution of population within countries but also in the organization of economic production, distribution and exchange, in the structuring of social reproduction and cultural life, and in the exercise of political power. Sub-fields of the different social science disciplines were established in the decades after the Second World War to study these separate components, such as urban anthropology, economics, geography, politics, and sociology; later attempts were made to integrate these under the umbrella title of urban studies.
Urban and rural places are distinct in a number of ways according to some arguments, a distinction formalized by scholars through the concept of a rural-urban continuum which suggested that as the size of a place changed so did its residents\' characteristics, Wirth\'s (1938) classic paper on urbanism defined those characteristics, and there was a strong tradition, extending back to Jefferson\'s anti-urban and pro-rural sentiments in the United States, promoting the \'idyllic rural\' myth and denigrating the urban. The association of particular lifestyles with different settlement sizes has been substantially criticized more recently, however: \'rural-like\' communities have been \'discovered\' in inner cities (cf. urban village) while the concept of counterurbanization indicates a diffusion of the urban way of life into remote rural areas: in this sense, the concept of urban appears redundant because it cannot be negated â€” wherever we live, we are all urban now (Saunders, 1986). Such claims regarding the concept of a separate urban realm are not entirely new, however: in the nineteenth century both Durkheim and Marx argued that towns and cities played a distinct role in the transition from feudalism to capitalism but then became a part of that universal mode of organization with no independent identity or function. To study urban places separately was thus, in modern language, to draw upon chaotic conceptions.
Major stimuli to reinterpreting the nature of the urban was provided in the 1970s by David Harvey\'s (1973) Social justice and the city and Manuel Castells\'s (1977) The urban question. Harvey set out on what he considered the impossible task of constructing a general urban theory, and concluded that urbanism has a separate structure with its own dynamic set within the larger forces of capitalism. His later essays continue the attempt: The limits to capital (1982) is introduced as his reworking of Marxist economic theory en route to a \'theory of urbanization\'; the essays in The urbanization of capital (1985a) explore how capitalism creates a \'physical landscape of roads, houses, factories, schools, shops and so forth\' as part of the process of creating space (see also Lefebvre, 1991); and in Consciousness and the urban experience (1985b) he focuses on the experience of living in such places and the resulting social relations and forms of political consciousness. He concluded the last of those volumes with the emancipatory case (see applied geography) that \'If the urbanization of capital and of consciousness is so central to the perpetuation and experience of capitalism, â€¦ then we have no option but to put the urbanization of revolution at the center of our political strategies\'.
Castells\'s book also attempted to reinterpret what was already known â€” \'in order to detect the distorting ideological mechanisms and to reread in a new light the empirical discoveries made\'. Like Harvey, he argued that social scientists were failing to understand \'urban problems\' because of ideological blinkers which obstructed the development of a theory that could inform practice. This was because of the widespread belief in a separate urban realm, which Castells showed was a wrong abstraction: urban problems are problems of societies, not of particular types of place, however defined, thus (p. 454)
there is no cultural system linked to a given form of spatial organization; â€¦ the social history of humanity is not determined by the type of development of the territorial collectivities; and the spatial environment is not the root of a specificity of behaviour and representation.The processes that characterize late capitalism are general: its economic forms are as apparent in agribusinesses as in city-based manufacturing industries, and ideologies and attitudes are shared by people in similar socioeconomic positions whatever their home location. Nevertheless, Castells did argue that under capitalism urban places are the spatial units within which collective consumption, the processes of reproducing labour power and social relations, is grounded: indeed, he suggests that this is their raison d\'Ãªtre.
These two books were part of a major trend in social science to redefine urban in other than spatial/territorial terms (and thus to end its treatment as a form of spatial fetishism), and to create a theory of the role of urban places in capitalist society â€” a theory that would not only advance understanding but also inform political practice and lead to a restructuring of society .
The concept of a separate urban realm is still widely used in general language and much social science, however. Two areas have been advanced where this is particularly valid: (a) in historical investigations, which illustrate the role of urban places as the motor for capitalist development (Sutcliffe, 1983); and (b) in parts of the world where capitalism has not fully penetrated all areas and aspects of life so that urban and rural stand out as unique in certain respects. Nevertheless, the relative decline of a distinctively urban geography in recent years in North America and the United Kingdom may be associated with the critiques launched by Harvey and Castells.Â (RJJ)
References Castells, M. 1977: The urban question: a marxist approach. London: Edward Arnold; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Â Harvey, D. 1973: Social justice and the city. London: Edward Arnold.Â Harvey, D. 1982: The limits to capital. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Harvey, D. 1985a: The urbanization of capital. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Harvey, D. 1985b: Consciousness and the urban experience. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Lefebvre, H. 1991: The production of space. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Saunders, P. 1986: Social theory and the urban question, 2nd edn. London: Hutchinson.Â Sutcliffe, A.R. 1983: In search of the urban variable: Britain in the later nineteenth century. In D. Fraser and A.R. Sutcliffe, eds, The study of urban history. London: Edward Arnold, 234-63.Â Wirth, L. 1938: Urbanism as a way of life. American Journal of Sociology 44: 1-24.
Suggested Reading Pahl, R.E. 1983: Concepts in context: pursuing the urban of \'urban\' sociology. In D. Fraser and A.R. Sutcliffe, eds, The study of urban history. London: Edward Arnold, 371-87.Â Saunders, P. 1985: Space, the city, and urban sociology. In D. Gregory and J. Urry, eds, Social relations and spatial structures. London: Macmillan, 67-89.Â Smith, M.P. 1979: The city and social theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; New York: St. Martin\'s Press.Â Smith. M.P. 1988: City, state and market: the political economy of urban society. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.