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International Socialism, Winter 1965/66


John Lee

How Green is My Palais?


From International Socialism, No.23, Winter 1965/66, pp.32-33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


An Approach to Urban Sociology
Peter H. Mann
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 30s.

Rather than one approach, Dr Mann offers a complex of approaches to the study of urban life. His first is in terms of the familiar polar-type continuum which considers cities as comparatively rationalised, sophisticated, densely populated and industrial, and as characterised by secondary or segmental social relationships. He illustrates the general utility of such models whilst warning that there are exceptions and that modern rural Britain is not so very rural. However, in characterising the urban social structure and ethos he vigorously attacks the ‘Merrie Englanders’ and other proponents of the view that urban contacts are segmental and schizoid. Even in the towns we can love our neighbours, our wives and sometimes even our neighbours’ wives. This fact leads the author to a fruitful if laborious analysis of the concept of neighbourhood in which theoretical reference is made to some of the vast heap of British Community Studies.

The second and most interesting half of the book considers and restructures certain crucial elements of the urban-rural models used by the great social theorists, Tönnies, Durkheim, Weber and Parsons. Most commendably he suggests that future urban studies might profitably use a Weberian type of comparative analysis of causal sequences or developments, with the aim of isolating causally significant variables. The book is competent and useful for sociologists but it is sometimes inclined to state the obvious. For example, he spends three pages in documenting his proposition that ‘rural areas are much more agricultural than the towns’ More seriously, however, his book contains little account or explanation of the evolution and development of cities so that not only the poetry of history is missing but also some reference to the place of cities in developing and maintaining industrial and capitalistic social structure. No reference is made to the works of Marx and Engels who presented a body of theory not just about ‘the idiocy of rural life’ but also about urban life and development. Engels went further and even produced a magnificent early ecological case study of Manchester, the world’s first major industrial city.

Another related weakness is his desire to conceptually separate the urban life style from the roles and institutions of the industrial and political order. He does this despite the vast amount of American material on community and city power structures. This prevents an understanding of the way changes in the economic and political order control and reshape the style of urban life. It is this area of urban sociology which is most significant for socialists involved in the democratic re-planning of urban and industral life. It is most noticeable and lamentable in this context that the atuhor makes no reference to Stacey’s recent classic study of Tradition and Change in Banbury.

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