Space, the City and Social Theory

Author: Fran Tonkiss

The book attempts to invert the view city as a fixed space within which various social processes are worked out. The city is a site for social encounter, social division, and as a field of politics, power and every day experience. Further in investigation, the author employs two key literature and school of thought “Urban Sociology” of Chicago School and “Social Theory” of European School (Simmel and Benjamin). The Chicago school offered a framework for thinking about broader urban processes, forms and relations that can help make sense of specific place

*Social theories are analytical frameworks, or paradigms (modern planning and modern cities), that are used to study and interpret social phenomena

*Urban sociology is the sociological study of life and human interaction in metropolitan areas

The object of study is “Modern City” as an arena of “Sociation” rather than economic and political processes. The author attempts to look at general account of social relations and urban form in liberal capital cities of developed countries.

The first chapter “Community and Solitude: Social Relations in the city” discusses the tensions between anonymity and community. The “moral milieu” raises the question of what forms of community or identity might be possible within the larger anonymity of the modern city. It draws heavily on Chicago School of thought that social and spatial division has carved up the city as geography of difference. The solitude and anonymity is also to be understood as a social relation, as modern city allows crowding and isolation simultaneously.  

The second chapter “Spaces of Difference and Division” highlights the difference and divisions as necessary condition to give shape and sense to the city. The making of social boundaries, social practice turns into spatial facts. The division that people draw between things and places harden into objective facts which in turn organize social meaning and social action. In a situation like ghetto or slum, it offers a model of a contained social and economic order. In many circumstances, the slums are institutionally constructed by the systematic effect of racism in housing, marginalization of economic opportunities and spatial policing. However Jane Jacob stressed the importance of social networks as “a city’s irreplaceable social capital”

The third chapter “The Politics of Space, Social Movements and Public Space” brings about the issues of social relation in a city is a diagrams of social power. Such power are legible in legible in material forms. The very idea of urban form or built environments is landscape of power in urban sociological terms. The question of cultural identifies and lifestyles are linked to the use of spaces or to forms of spatial practice in the city.

The forth chapter “Capital and Culture: Gentrifying city” brings about changes in the social that are reflected physical fabric of cities. The urban renewal or retrofit objectives are often social and symbolic restructuring of inner-city through processes of gentrification.

The fifth chapter “Embodied Spaces: Gender, Sexuality and the City” brings about the discussion on how women’s spatial practice is constrained by geographies of violence and fear. The spaces are gendered though both social practices and symbolic association form of exclusion, erotic spectacle in everyday practices, which in turn produces social codes towards gendering of urban space. The metropolis needs to deal with ideal of spatial liberties, political visibilities and pleasure of anonymity.

The sixth chapter “Spatial Stories: Subjectivity in the city”  delineated the impact of urban life on human consciousness, memory and role of everyday. This spatial stories turns, then, on the contrast between the solidity and actuality of the material city and elusive subjects within it.

The seventh chapter “Making Space: Urban Cultures, Spatial Tactics” brings about the “otherness”, “inverted space” as an important aspects for making of space. It offers to disrupt the spatial norms and highlights the remaking of space, potential for social action to produce sites which are “inverted spaces” in established order.

This book offers a valuable account of the contemporary cities from sociological perspective and brings paradigmatic shift in our understanding of cities.

Photo Credit: Goodreads

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