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  A way of life associated with residence in an urban area. The concept was introduced in a classic essay by a sociologist of the Chicago school, Louis Wirth (1938), who was concerned with social problems in urban areas; he identified the urbanization process as leading to the erosion of the moral order of society because of the concomitant decline of community. The complexity of social and economic organization and the fine-grained division of labour in urban areas fragment the individual\'s life: much social interaction involves transactions with \'unknown others\' and is thus transitory and superficial, in contrast to the situation of strong extended family ties and communities believed to be characteristic of rural areas and small settlements. Thus, Wirth presented the social disorganization of cities as stemming from their size, density and heterogeneity, his three criteria for distinguishing urban places (cf. rural-urban continuum).

Wirth\'s thesis typified studies that identified the urban as a separate spatial realm with its own contextual influences on individuals. It contradicted much of the other work of the Chicago School, however (including his own on the ghetto), which identified strong communities within urban areas (cf. urban village) and failed to locate the processes of urbanization within the wider political economy of capitalism.

Within the literature of postmodernism and postmodernity many writers use the term urbanism as a synonym for the entire built environment of an urban area. (RJJ)

Reference Wirth. L. 1938: Urbanism as a way of life. American Journal of Sociology 44: 1-24.

Suggested Reading Smith, M.P. 1979: The city and social theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; New York: St. Martin\'s Press.



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