Urban Revolution

views updated May 23 2018

Urban Revolution








“Urban revolution” is a term introduced by V. Gordon Childe, an eminent Old World prehistorian, to describe the process by which preliterate agriculturists living in villages and towns first came to form larger, more complex, civilized societies. This process seems to have occurred, essentially independently and at different times, in several areas of the world. Not surprisingly, the precise qualities by which the first achievement of a civilized way of life in particular areas can be recognized are not always the same. Indeed, even the two features emphasized in Childe’s formulation of the concept—the formation of cities and the invention of writing—apparently were not present in all instances. But although different cultural traditions exhibit very different formal characteristics, the effect of the urban revolution everywhere was to bring a new set of social and economic institutions decisively and relatively rapidly into positions of dominance. The term “urban revolution” describes the functional core of this process. Thus it is perhaps as apt as any to express the underlying regularities that appear in all the separate manifestations of the process. This was a transformation which, in its crucial importance for man’s cultural development, is analogous to the neolithic (or food-producing) revolution, which preceded it by many millenniums, and to the industrial revolution of our own era.

The equation of “urbanism” with “civilization” is not new. For example, Strabo, the thoughtful and widely traveled Greek geographer, simply classified countries of his day that lacked cities as uncivilized. Fifteen hundred years later the spectacle of the great Aztec capital city in central Mexico prompted the invading Spaniards to compare Mesoamerican civilization with that of Europe; these comparisons have been eloquently preserved in the account of Bernal Díaz and in letters of Hernán Cortés to the Spanish emperor. However, the more immediate background for the concept of an urban revolution lies not in the gradual systematization of this old equation but in the cultural evolutionism of Lewis Henry Morgan.

Writing at a time when only scant knowledge of prehistory and early history existed, Morgan used contemporary ethnography and classical studies to posit a universal series of successive stages of cultural development. The sequence of savagery, barbarism, and civilization was marked by the cumulative growth of technology and the progressive unfolding of social institutions. Morgan’s work turned attention away from the ethnocentric, value-laden connotations of “civilization” and toward its use as a term denoting an objective, qualitatively distinguishable stage of cultural complexity. He had the insight to recognize that the invention of writing was a convenient criterion of this development, if hardly its omnipresent or most essential feature. He failed, however, to recognize the advent of cities as a decisive development associated only with the stage of civilization in both its technological and institutional aspects.

Childe’s criteria of civilization

During the sixty years separating Morgan’s work and the beginnings of Childe’s interest in the sequence of stages leading to civilization, early Near Eastern archeology and history had emerged as scholarly disciplines. Evidence became available, as it had not been earlier, through which urbanization could be identified as an axis of change accompanying the introduction of writing at the onset of civilization. Thus, when Childe came to identify other criteria of civilization, he was able to use an inductive approach and eschew pure speculation. Among these criteria Childe included classes of full-time specialists and rulers exempt from ordinary subsistence tasks, mechanisms such as taxes or tribute by which the “social surplus” could be concentrated in the hands of an elite, monumental public buildings devoted to the rulers or to the gods they served, the elaboration of exact and predictive sciences, extensive and regular foreign trade, and the emergence of a political organization based on residence rather than on kinship.

This is, to be sure, a mixed bag of characteristics. Some, like monumental architecture, can be unequivocally documented from archeological evidence but are also known to have been associated with noncivilized peoples. Others, like exact and predictive sciences, are largely matters of interpretation from evidence that is at best fragmentary and ambiguous. Moreover, many of Childe’s criteria, if not most, obviously must have emerged through a gradual, cumulative process in which it is not easy to distinguish differences in kind from those of degree. But if in this respect Childe’s approach fails to exclude a subjective element, it also reflects a distinct conceptual advance over approaching the study of civilization within the framework of evolutionary stage theory. The concept of an urban revolution, after all, encourages us to view the attainment of civilization not as two disjunctive “before” and “after” steps but as a process of transformation in basic institutional patterns that occurred over a period of time.

Distinguishing features of early civilized societies such as those elucidated by Childe obviously represent an extremely limited selection from the total range of cultural phenomena. However, their selection was not random but represents an emphasis on particular institutions thought to be somehow basic or crucial to the developmental process. For Childe himself, the central causative agencies behind the urban revolution were the cumulative growth of technology and the amassing and controlled utilization of food surpluses by newly emergent class societies. To some degree, this view undoubtedly reflects his commitment to a materialistic philosophy of history. Yet those who attach greater importance to changing ecological adaptations as the primary creative process leading to the appearance of civilizations find little to add to or take away from Childe’s criteria.

There are two reasons for this congruence of views. One is that the available evidence imposes severe limitations upon possible reconstructions. Since developed systems of writing appeared only as civilized societies approached maturity, documentary evidence is generally of secondary importance for understanding the initial periods of civilization. And in spite of substantial advances during recent years in the recovery and identification of organic materials (in some cases even permitting quantitative assessments of diet), the archeologist’s interpretations of socioeconomic institutions and activities still rest heavily on inferences drawn from the imperishable vestiges of tools and weapons, ornaments, pottery, and architecture. Hence it is not surprising that the dominant archeological approach has remained phenomenological, with attention focused on the temporal and spatial relationships of the material objects themselves. There has been more emphasis on establishing chronological outlines and drawing up inventory lists for particular periods than on reconstructing the societal settings in which the objects were made and used. Furthermore, as interpretation becomes more disciplined, it becomes clear that fidelity to data of this limited kind can only tend to impose a generally materialistic emphasis.

A second reason for the congruence of views on the essential characteristics of early civilizations derives from the milieu of study in which prehis-torians are trained. Since this milieu is primarily anthropological in character (particularly in the United States), some aspects of the traditional world view of anthropology have influenced the kinds of questions that are asked and the hypotheses and assumptions with which early urban development is analyzed. In general, anthropology has paid little attention to widespread regional or national patterns of culture or to the relationships of towns and cities to their hinterlands. The study of the emergence of cities also has tended to ignore these themes or to reduce them to the study of the diffusion of particular cultural elements. As the unit of study for anthropologists generally has been the community, so that of the prehistorian or proto-historian dealing with the urban revolution has been the excavation and analysis of the individual site. Not surprisingly, this study has become infused with a strongly integrative view of cultural development. Rather than dealing with the disorganization and dissonance of increasingly heterogeneous social groups, surely as potent a source of change as any, study has been focused mainly on the traditional styles, symbols, rituals, and institutions that uniquely distinguished a particular early civilization and that bound its components together. Despite differences over causal explanations, specialists on the problem have tended to unite in the assumption that the growth of the city can best be studied and understood as an organic, internal process, devoid of sharp discontinuities and significant external stimuli. They view civilization as both concentrated in and led by the major creative centers.

Changes in subsistence

The earliest zones in which the urban revolution took place were the great alluvial valleys of the Near East. While the food-producing revolution also seems to have occurred earliest in that general area, it is important to note that these two processes were not directly linked. Whatever its secondary effects on other aspects of culture and social organization, the food-producing revolution consisted essentially of a change in patterns of subsistence, a more selective and intensive adaptation of small communities to their immediate natural environments. The urban revolution, on the other hand, cannot be identified with substantial changes in subsistence. It is primarily a matter of profound increase in the scale and complexity of society, together with the emergence of new political and religious institutions capable of organizing and integrating diverse social groups in an unprecedented urban setting.

Nevertheless, in spite of differences in basic character, these two transformations do form a “unilinear sequence. Without agriculture, without the production of storable food surpluses that could be concentrated by an elite and used for the support of persons engaged in activities not related to primary subsistence needs, the achievement of urban civilization would not have been possible. Of course, as shown by the long-continued practice of agriculture in many areas without the indigenous development of civilization, it follows only that the food-producing revolution was a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for this further transformation.

That there were substantial differences between the agricultural regime of the village zone and that of the lowlands where civilization first developed, and that these may have furnished part of the stimulus which set the urban revolution in motion, is apparent not only from historical and archeological sources but also from the environmental conditions within the zones. The early villages occupied a diverse terrain of scattered oases, upland steppes, dissected hill flanks, and isolated mountain valleys, while the earliest instance of the urban revolution took place on the more compact and less differentiated lower plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Here, agriculture always required irrigation to supplement the inadequate rainfall. With irrigation, agricultural yields from the alluvial plain were probably always significantly higher than in the uplands, in relation to both cultivated area and labor input, even if Herodotus’ claim of a two to three hundredfold return on seed is not borne out by temple records.

On the plains, then, there was the possibility of substantial surpluses, particularly after the invention of the plow had vastly improved the methods of cultivating and irrigating the level, stoneless soils. But since the realization of this possibility was by no means inherent in the possibility itself, the concept of surplus is one that continues to arouse much debate. While the term may be used to describe a precondition for urban life, it must be carefully applied. As Polanyi and his co-workers have argued, actual agricultural surpluses are always defined and mobilized in a particular institutional setting. Too frequently the term is used loosely to imply that the production of the agriculturalist that was in excess of his family’s own needs was a kind of prior, self-generating, independent variable and that the social arrangements for extracting that surplus from him were introduced later. Perhaps this is so, but one might also argue that it was the growth of the religious and political institutions characteristic of civilization that induced or compelled farmers to convert their leisure and local specialization into agricultural produce delivered to distant elites. The evidence currently available simply does not permit a definitive choice among these and similar alternatives.

There were several other subsistence features that appeared during the fifth and fourth millenniums b.c. that were just as important in precipitating the urban revolution as the magnitude of potential agricultural surpluses on the plains. The subsistence system was, in the first place, a complex system, involving products of field, garden, and fruit cultivation as well as animal husbandry and fishing, each with its own annual cycle of activities, variations in output, and specialized technology. Hence it must have encouraged the growth of the exchange and redistributive agencies characteristic of an urban setting, in contrast to the economic self-sufficiency and isolation of the early villages in which agriculture first was practiced. Second, each of the major components of subsistence was exposed to highly destructive natural hazards—floods, droughts, and insect infestations, to mention only three—while at the same time the relatively dry climate and the nature of the foodstuffs permitted extended periods of storage. Here we see an apparently strong inducement to the accumulation of food surpluses and thus perhaps also to the formation of political institutions for their collection, retention, and allocation. Finally, certain consequences of intensive agriculture, and especially of irrigation, surely helped set in motion those processes of increasing social stratification which lay at the core of the urban revolution.

The available evidence on population density, patterns of settlement, and prices paid for fields in early Mesopotamia, fragmentary as it is, strongly suggests that potentially cultivable land on the alluvial plain was never in short supply in relation to population over the region at large. By contrast, water for irrigation must always have been the scarce, primary variable, as indeed it remains today. And scarcity of water in turn implies that disproportionate importance and value must have been attached to lands adjacent to, and capable of being commanded by, the major sources of irrigation water. Such lands, together with the canals that supplied them, constituted both a capital resource and a balanced system capable of only limited expansion. In this sense, with the focus on the particular locality instead of the wider region, limitations in the supply of cultivable land must have rapidly become a potent source of economic inequality and intercommunity political rivalry.

It also has been argued that the practice of irrigation was directly responsible for the formation of a managerial elite that in time came to exercise a monopoly of political and economic power. According to this “hydraulic theory,” the planning, operation, and maintenance of large-scale irrigation systems necessarily placed despotic powers in the hands of administrative specialists, enabling these specialists to concentrate surpluses in their hands and to consolidate the earliest state apparatuses. This view, however, considerably overestimates the degree of centralized control needed for what were prevailingly canal systems of very limited scale and complexity. Moreover, ethnographic evidence suggests that the problems of irrigation were successfully met at the level of the local community throughout the period when the new elites characteristic of a civilization were being formed. Hence, at least in the Mesopotamian context, the managerial requirements of irrigation systems seem to represent a less important historical force in the precipitation of the urban revolution than the differential degrees of access to the main productive resources, land and water, differences that tended to encourage political rivalries and social stratification.

The Mesopotamian prototype

As it first occurred in lower Mesopotamia in the centuries immediately before and after 3000 b.c., the core of the urban revolution as a process of change seems to have consisted of a series of linked trends that were manifested in, but were not fully synonymous with, the criteria set forth by Childe. Apparently the first specialized administrative group, or ruling stratum, was composed of hierarchies of priests. These priests were associated with monumental temples and were in the service of gods who were regarded as resident in the individual communities. Why the initial emphasis should have been placed on a priesthood, as indeed also seems to have been the case in the formative stages of other early civilizations, remains a matter of conjecture. It may be argued that the concurrent emergence of unprecedentedly diverse and often conflicting social groups that characterized the urban revolution initially demanded a unified and heightened ritual expression of certain essential structural themes simply in order to maintain social cohesion. But it should also be noted that part of the early prominence that we attach to religious institutions is only a reflection of the more formal, highly stylized setting and character of religious forms of social integration as compared with their political counterparts. It is, after all, only the physical remnants of these institutions with which the archeologist must work, and archeological evidence for ritual activities suggestive of a priesthood almost always will be inherently less ambiguous than for the more rapidly shifting channels and fluid forms of expression of political power.

Overtly political controls maintained by these groups of religious specialists are not apparent, but the earliest written evidence indicates that they were already engaged in widely diversified economic activities. The temples constituted integrated economic units in which production and redistribution were not limited to subsistence products but gradually expanded to include the support of craftsmen as well as specialized scribes, priests, and administrators.

As the bonds linking together the extended kin groups originally occupying certain communities were dissolved by emerging class differences, these communities came more and more to assume the characteristics of private estates. Both textual and archeological evidence clearly points to this process of social stratification and organization of sacred and secular communities along manorial lines as one of the central features of the urban revolution. But while the bulk of the agricultural population may have gradually assumed a serf-like status, outright slavery was not an important feature in the countryside. Even in the cities the percentage of slaves remained small, although since they were concentrated in the larger secular and sacred establishments, their presence may have had a strategic effect in accelerating the stratification process as a whole.

An equally strategic and closely related process was the emergence of an explicitly political basis for the organization of new and larger communities comprising a number of manorial units. To judge from the sequence of societal forms implied by myths and semihistorical epics thought to have originated during this period, the role of temporary war leader was institutionalized and made permanent at about the same time as monumental private residences ("palaces") and tombs richly stocked with luxury goods and weapons appear in the archeological record. Warfare seems to have become more chronic and sanguinary, encouraging the consolidation of dispersed settlements into composite city-states, where it became the business of hereditary dynasts to organize the defense with walls, supplies of costly weaponry such as chariots, regular soldiery, and militia drawn from the populace at large. These first cities, having evolved in a few centuries from small, temple-dominated towns of about the same size as the numerous agricultural villages that were widely scattered over the alluvial landscape, grew to include up to 400 hectares within their walls and probably were occupied by up to several tens of thousands of inhabitants.

The king of such a city-state, increasingly free of the traditional restraints imposed by other manorial groupings similar to the one from which he (or his ancestors) had first emerged as a successful war leader, naturally sought to consolidate both his internal and external position through conquest of his neighbors. Foodstuffs, luxury goods from looted temples, arable lands, and war captives to serve in the palaces and temples were among the prizes of battle. Foreign trade, involving the exchange of textiles and metal implements for timber, ores, and other raw materials, was necessarily expanded greatly. It now had to meet not only the enhanced military and ritual demands of the king and the temple but also the increasing private demand of craft specialists for the exchange of their products through a market.

If the foregoing reconstruction is reasonably accurate, it prompts further scrutiny of the criteria previously identified with the urban revolution. The development of social stratification and the replacement of kin-based and temple-based modes of organization by increasingly autocratic political institutions were clearly evident trends that seem to have been primary motive forces for the change. Urbanization, on the other hand, is more difficult to identify as an independent factor. While eventually it may be found that there was substantial population growth during this period, according to present evidence the physical process of urbanization involved primarily the redistribution of population, through the abandonment of hundreds of smaller settlements in the hinterlands and the coalescence of formerly scattered settlements. This process in turn was consequent upon the rising importance of politico-military leadership. Further light can be shed on this problem only by diverting some of the archeological attention that is now concentrated on the aesthetically more promising city ruins toward the tracing of the fortunes of smaller outlying settlements.

The case is similar with regard to the increasing specialization of the crafts, the proliferation of nonfood producers, and the greatly expanded volume and variety of foreign trade. If it is always futile to seek to completely disentangle “causes” and “effects” in a complex historical sequence, at least it can be said that these developments were largely posterior to, and hence hardly responsible for, the major political and economic trends that initially constituted the urban revolution. There does not seem to be any factual basis for regarding advances in the organization of the crafts and in the distribution of their products, or advances in Mesopotamian technology itself, as primary and essentially self-energizing factors leading to the achievement of civilization. It has also been demonstrated through ethnographic example that full-time and part-time specialists were intergraded with one another, confounding the expectation of the modern analyst that those entirely divorced from a role in primary subsistence pursuits should form a distinct and separate group.

Another set among our original criteria—namely, the elaboration of systems of writing and measurement and the appearance of the predictive “sciences”—stands in a still different relationship to the growth of civilization in Mesopotamia. While perhaps not a part of the nexus of cause and effect at the core of the urban revolution, these criteria certainly were more than just a part of its penumbra. They developed hand in hand with the major institutional forces, exercising a substantial influence on both their rate and direction of growth. To be sure, the presence of knowledge deserving to be called exact and scientific at this early period can be deduced only very tentatively from the existence of elaborately kept records and carefully replicated craft procedures. But since emphasis on both accounts and craft technologies was a vital part of Mesopotamia’s long-standing cultural tradition, it seems justified to infer an early trend toward some more abstract and systematic view of the procedures that went into them.

The effects of literacy are even more apparent. Invented at the very outset of the urban revolution, writing greatly enhanced both the scale and complexity of the administrative capabilities of the temple and the state. Perhaps still more important, it provided for the preservation and accumulation of knowledge and a world view through time, making possible the conscious synthesis and elaboration of a great tradition out of the variable and shortlived little traditions of the preliterate, preurban countryside. However, all but the formally recorded terminal point in the process is irrecoverable, since the preliterate archeological record is limited not merely to material remains but to relatively imperishable ones at that.

Other early Oriental civilizations

Most of the other areas of early and essentially autochthonous civilization in the Old World are even less adequately documented than Mesopotamia. However, since the substantive details of the rise of civilization in various centers are less significant for our purpose than the general process they represent, certain limited conclusions can be drawn. Insofar as the evidence permits comparison, it suggests that this process was essentially the same everywhere, even though the formal criteria by which it may be recognized differ considerably from case to case. At the same time, a brief survey of some of the major instances may serve not only to underline the patterns of regularity but also to indicate the range of differences.

Closest to Mesopotamia was the civilization of Egypt; it was almost contemporary with that of Mesopotamia and apparently influenced by the latter for a brief but significant period just as its essential forms were crystallizing. Yet in matters of cultural content Egypt rapidly branched off onto an entirely independent course. At a broad institutional level, for example, the following contrasts may be noted: the strikingly early and successful imposition of unified state controls over an entire realm of hundreds or even thousands of component communities; the early and apparently sudden, yet fully elaborated, emergence of the ruler as both king and deity, and the failure of temple hierarchies to appear (at least according to present evidence) as agencies of smaller-scale administrative control prior to the ruler’s emergence; and the relative stagnation of technology in spite of raw materials more abundant than Mesopotamia ever possessed.

It has even been suggested by some authorities that Egypt lacked true cities until late in the second millennium b.c., although in the present state of Egyptian archeology there is little evidence either for or against this proposition. But beneath these clearly different structural features, the onset of Egyptian civilization still can be described in terms of the linked processes of increasing social stratification and the institutionalization of political leadership to supplement less formal and authoritarian patterns of control within a greatly expanded territorial state. At least in this general sense, Egypt can be said to have gone through an urban revolution similar to that of Mesopotamia, whether or not cities were present during the third millennium.

The origins of the other early civilizations of Asia, particularly those of the Indus Valley and north China, are still more obscure. If purely archeological modes of inference are reliable (the script has not been deciphered), Indus civilization was much like early Egypt with respect to the contrastive features mentioned above—save possibly that its twin capitals unquestionably were cities of a large (about one square kilometer) and exceptionally well-regulated kind. Chinese civilization, on the other hand, seems to have followed more closely the internally warring, urban, technologically precocious Mesopotamian model. The Indus Valley and probably also the north China plain supported irrigation societies, engendering additional similarities to Egypt and Mesopotamia. Both the Indus and Chinese civilizations developed considerably later than the civilizations of the Near East (the Indus perhaps half a millennium later, China probably less than a millennium and a half) and hence have sometimes been dismissed as merely derivative. Whatever the ultimate source of the stimuli that prompted their growth, however, each represented an essentially independent synthesis in response to historical and ecological forces within its own area and was in no sense imposed from outside.

The years since Morgan’s work on cultural evolution have brought a substantial and irreversible erosion in the universal series of immutable stages he had visualized as steps toward civilization taken, at a more or less rapid rate, by cultures all over the world. We are left with what can no longer be called a “unilinear” but instead must be considered a “multilinear” process. This process consists of a common core of certain basic trends that operated through time in widely different ways to transform a certain general type of society found in broadly similar ecological settings into a type of society that reflected a higher level of sociocultural scale and complexity.

It has become equally clear that the transition from one organizational level to another was not “unidirectional” in the sense of smoothly modifying institutional patterns moving toward closer and closer approximations of patterns with which we are directly familiar. Urbanism in our own day, for example, is widely regarded as synonymous with pronounced social heterogeneity, secularism of outlook, impersonality of an increasing proportion of interpersonal contacts, and preoccupation with non-subsistence pursuits. Yet in its initial appearance, as reflected in the examples discussed above, the city seems to have emerged as a physical form of settlement accompanied by few, and in some cases none, of these characteristics. For all the intensely rich and important potentialities that the urban revolution held for precivilized societies, it was only the initial step in the much fuller and longer process of urbanization as we know it today.

Robert Mc C. Adams

[See also City, article onforms and functions; and the biography of Childe.]


Adams, Robert McC. 1966 The Evolution of Urban Society: Early Mesopotamia and Prehispanic Mexico. Chicago: Aldine.

Braidwood, Robert J.; and Willey, Gordon R. (editors) 1962 Courses Toward Urban Life: Archeological Considerations of Some Cultural Alternates. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology, No. 32. Chicago: Aldine.

Childe, V. Gordon (1928) 1953 New Light on the Most Ancient East. 4th ed. New York: Praeger. → First published as The Most Ancient East.

Childe, V. Gordon 1950 The Urban Revolution. Town Planning Review 21:3-17.

Childe, V. Gordon 1951 Social Evolution. New York: Schumann.

Fried, Morton H. 1960 On the Evolution of Social Stratification and the State. Pages 713-731 in Stanley Diamond (editor), Culture in History: Essays in Honor of Paul Radin. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Jacobsen, Thorkild 1957 Early Political Development in Mesopotamia. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vor-derasiatische Archäologie 52:91-140.

Polanyi, Karl; Arensberg, Conrad M.; and Pearson, Harry W. (editors) 1957 Trade and Market in the Early Empires: Economies in History and Theory. Glencoe, Iii.: Free Press.

Redfield, Robert 1953 The Primitive World and Its Transformations. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Sjoberg, Gideon 1960 The Preindustrial City: Past and Present. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Steward, Julian H. (editor) 1955a Irrigation Civilizations: A Comparative Study. Pan American Union, Social Science Monographs, No. 1. Washington: Pan American Union.

Steward, Julian H. 1955b Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

Symposium on Urbanization and Cultural Development in the Ancient Near East, University of Chicago, 1958 1960 City Invincible. Edited by Carl H. Kraeling and Robert McC. Adams. Univ. of Chicago Press.


In the early sixteenth century, Spanish conquerors destroyed flourishing urban civilizations in central Mexico and Peru. The conquerors’ accounts of the cities and civilizations of the New World captured the imagination of Europe. In the four following centuries a great body of literature on these early civilizations accumulated, some of it historical or sociological; some anecdotal, theological or philosophical; some wildly speculative, some carefully reasoned. Two questions repeatedly occur throughout this literature: Where did these civilizations come from? How are they like and how are they different from the civilizations of the Old World? In the answers to these questions lies the significance of these civilizations for the social sciences, for the comparative study of early civilization in the Old World must reckon with the evidence from the New World.

When the Spanish reached the Valley of Mexico in the high plateau of central Mexico, seven thousand feet above sea level, they marveled at the capital city of the Aztecs on the island in the valley’s shallow lake system. They could not know that the city they were seeing, with its great pyramid-temples, market places, palaces, and gleaming white dwellings, was the product of a long period of growth and development, and that the earliest cities in Mexico antedated it by almost fifteen hundred years. Only comparatively recently, through archeology, has this become clear. Much the same is true of the Inca capital of Cuzco, in the central highlands of Peru. This city, with its spectacular stone masonry and megalithic architecture, was the product of a long period which saw the growth of major urban centers in other places and times.

Cities and civilization

V. Gordon Childe’s concept of “the urban revolution” greatly influenced prehistorians and others concerned with the rise of cities and civilization, both in the Near East and in other parts of the world. Childe’s formulation centered on the social and cultural transformations wrought by the urban revolution in the Near East, and he wrote of “the urban revolution” and “the birth of civilization” as though they were aspects of the same phenomenon. And indeed, the development of the city and the development of civilization appear to have been closely linked in ancient Mesopotamia.

But the same does not seem to be true for the New World, or at least not for Middle America, where civilization appears to have arisen in a non-urban setting hundreds of years before the development of cities. In Peru the evidence is less clear.

The concepts “civilization” and “city” cannot easily be delineated in preindustrial settings. Attempts to utilize minimal criteria, such as those suggested by Childe, in a pigeonholing operation in which cities are separated from towns, the civilized from the noncivilized, are Procrustean and self-defeating, for they lead to meaningless arguments which obscure the points at issue.

“Civilizations” and “cities” are conceptually distinct and should not be confused. “Civilization” refers to qualities pervading a whole society or several societies (see, for example, Redfield 1962, pp. 364-414). A preindustrial “city,” on the other hand, is a concrete entity, a densely settled community, with a relatively large, concentrated, essentially permanent population.

A city has many of the qualities of a civilization. For example, the social structure of a city is markedly stratified, the occupational hierarchy is highly differentiated, and the political structure is that of a state. By various means, a city’s elite tends to exercise control over a significant portion of the society’s labor and production of goods and services. Integration is at least partly fostered through a state ideology and a ritual system which reaffirm the basic unity of the society and its shared sacred representations, and often provide sanctioned role models for the society’s different strata.

“City” and “civilization” thus share some characteristics, do not share others, and are not necessarily conterminous. There may be “civilizations” without “cities,” “cities” without “civilization.” “Civilizations without cities” seem to have existed in parts of Middle America and Peru, in Egypt, and in other parts of the world; “cities without civilization,” in parts of aboriginal west Africa and perhaps in parts of pre-Shang China and Peru. For some purposes, the two concepts, together with the “ceremonial” or “temple center” concept discussed below, may be subsumed under the rubric “complex society.” But this would not be helpful here, for it would tend to blur the very differences which seem to have had important social concomitants in New World civilizations.

Cities and temple centers

Students of New World civilizations have argued over the significance of the roles played by ceremonial or temple centers and cities in the growth of civilizations in Middle America and Peru. It is clear that both types of settlements have long histories. Studies of settlement patterns (e.g., Willey 1956) shifted attention to the possible relation of ecological setting to the growth of cities or temple centers. Drawing an analogy from ancient Mesopotamia, earlier archeologists assumed that urban civilizations must have preceded the growth of civilizations around temple centers. For example, the ancient Maya of the tropical lowland forests of Guatemala and environs possessed a flourishing civilization built around such temple centers during the first millennium a.d. But it has been held that Maya civilization could not have originated in such an ecological setting and thus it must have been “imported” from elsewhere.

This argument has been undercut by evidence not only for a long period of indigenous growth of civilization in the Maya area itself (W. Coe 1965) but, significantly, for the growth of Olmec civilization, in an ecological setting at least as forbidding. The Olmec civilization, now thought to be the earliest civilization in Middle America, appears to have developed primarily in the lowland tropical forests of the northern part of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. (For discussion of this point see Covarrubias 1957, pp. 40-83; Drucker et al. 1959; Jimenez Moreno 1966, pp. 7-36; articles by Stirling and M. Coe in Handbook of Middle American Indians 1965, vol. 3, pp. 679-700, 716-775.) Here a number of temple centers were built, the most noted of which is at La Venta, an island in the midst of a swamp. At La Venta a great pyramid temple (of earth) and other platform structures were built; one of the world’s great art styles flourished; great basalt columns and other monoliths were brought from sources scores of miles distant; monumental stone heads, altars, bas-reliefs, and other stone sculptures abounded; and figurines and a variety of objects made of jade or other green stone were used in religious offerings.

Available evidence suggests that Olmec civilization flowered in the first millennium b.c. for some hundreds of years (the most frequently cited figure is 800-400 b.c.; an earlier, highly developed phase may have begun in the late second millennium— see M. Coe et al. 1967). Olmec civilization apparently was not confined to the tropical lowlands; centers of varying size and importance have been found in the highlands of central Mexico and in lower areas bordering on them, and in highland areas of southern Mexico and neighboring parts of Central America. However, none of these centers seems to have had an urban character; all were apparently temple or shrine centers of varying size, importance, and complexity. On the basis of present evidence, it thus appears that in Middle America the temple center was the first center of civilization and that it preceded the appearance of cities.

The same would appear to be true of the central Andes region. The beginnings of civilization in the central Andes are associated with the center and style of Chavin, which may have flourished at approximately the same time as the Olmec. The site of Chavin itself, in the Mosna Valley, ten thousand feet above sea level in the northern highlands of Peru, has usually been described as a ceremonial center (Bennett & Bird [1949] 1964, pp. 91-102; Collier 1962, p. 169; however, see also Rowe 1963, p. 10). On the basis of existing accounts it is difficult to judge the density of settlement around Chavin’s imposing ceremonial buildings, portals, courts, and galleries. Rowe summarizes evidence suggesting that some of the important large sites known to be contemporary with Chavin, and perhaps some that are considerably earlier, may have been cities (ibid., pp. 5-10; the interpretation of this evidence varies, since there are conflicting ideas on what constitutes an urban settlement). In addition, subsequent work has established that a number of temple centers of various sizes existed both on the coast and in the highlands prior to the Chavin florescence.

While there is evidence that cities became increasingly important in Middle America, the evidence from the central Andes as a whole is not quite so clear (compare Bennett & Bird [1949] 1964; Collier 1962; and Schaedel 1966 with Rowe 1963, pp. 18-20).

The earliest great urban center now known to have developed in Middle America was Teotihuacan. Its ruins lie in the Valley of Mexico, high in the Mexican central plateau, a little over 25 miles northeast of the site of Tenochtitlan, the later capital city of the Aztecs, and some fifty miles southwest of the site of Tula, capital of the Toltecs, the successors of the Teotihuacanos and predecessors of the Aztecs. Civilization in Middle America did not begin at Teotihuacan, site of the mammoth pyramids of the Sun and Moon, but civilized urban life of extraordinary complexity seems to have nourished there during the first millennium a.d. (Sanders [1956] 1964, pp. 123-125; Covarrubias 1957, pp. 122-143; Armillas 1964, pp. 304-310; Willey 1966, pp. 109-116; Jiménez Moreno 1966, pp. 36-56). At Teotihuacán a case can be made for an “urban revolution” comparable to the economic, social, and cultural transformations in Mesopotamia that gave rise to Sumerian civilization (Adams 1966, pp. 130-133, 172-173). At its peak of development the city covered an area of seven to eight square miles. Its population is difficult to estimate; perhaps it was about 75,000. Does Teotihuacán have more in common with the early cities of Mesopotamia and China than it does with the culturally closely related ceremonial centers of Maya civilization, such as Tikal in the tropical lowlands of Guatemala? What were the structural consequences of life inch a crowded, planned urban center as Teotihuacan? It was a city of overpowering, monumental architecture, with scores of temples, large plazas, crowded residential areas, spacious palaces, hundreds of mural paintings, and a forceful art style expressed in many media. It was a metropolis and sacred center of great complexity. The many and diverse activities, interests, and beliefs of its populace, the myriad outsiders attracted to its temples, shrines, and markets—all must have contributed to making Teotihuacan a center of extraordinary cultural richness.

Was life in Teotihuacan so different from life in the contemporary center of Tikal, largest of the lowland Guatemalan Maya temple centers? Tikal was the locus of a brilliant architectural and artistic florescence beginning before the Christian era and ending a thousand years later. Its towering temples were the highest ever built by the Maya. Its carvings in stone, wood, and other materials and its paintings on walls and on pottery vessels include artistic masterpieces of the highest quality. Calendrical and other inscriptions in Maya hieroglyphic writing are abundant. Tikal appears to have been as large as Teotihuacán but seems to have been much less densely settled. A minimal population of ten thousand recently has been suggested for the great Maya center. William R. Coe has argued that it was more than a ceremonial center, that its social structure was urban, even though it may not have looked like a city (1965, pp. 50-52).

The point is not what Tikal should be called— macrotemple center, city, or something else. It is whether there were important structural differences between the societies of Teotihuacán and Tikal which are related to the differences in population densities and sizes and the differing social composition of the two. The exploration and delineation of these differences, if they exist, and their social and cultural concomitants, represent the real point at issue. Its resolution might have implications which would carry beyond the borders of Middle America to Peru or to the Old World. Unfortunately, detailed and comprehensive maps of the great urban and temple centers of the central Andes comparable to those of Tikal and Teotihuacan have yet to be made. For example, the great Chimu capital of Chan Chan in the Moche Valley on the north coast of Peru requires such detailed study (Kosok 1965).

Writing and civilization

The question of the relation of writing to the development of a peasantry (and, by implication, to the development of civilization) has been raised by Fallers (1961), in connection with some of the “complex polities” of sub-Saharan Africa. He suggested that the development of great cultural gaps between an elite and the cultivators of the soil was impeded in these societies by the absence of literary religious traditions. The development of such cultural gaps, Fallers argued, is a result of the existence of writing, which facilitates the accumulation and elaboration of religious traditions and creates a social barrier between the literate and the illiterate segments of the population.

Writing never developed in the central Andes, so far as we know, although the use of the quipu (a counting device made of colored strings) as a mnemonic device undoubtedly facilitated record-keeping and the retention of many other kinds of information—historical, mythological, and religious.

The juxtaposition of Fallers’ argument and the evidence from Peru illuminates both. Little understanding would be gained by insisting that writing is an indispensable criterion for civilization, thereby excluding the aboriginal central Andes. At the same time, our understanding of Inca society and of the nature of Inca civilization might be advanced by explicitly examining the nature of the limitations imposed on social and cultural differentiation by the absence of writing (see Rowe 1946; Murra 1965; 1967). The result might have “feedback” for the understanding of the societies examined by Fallers. For example, it can be argued that it is not only the absence of writing that is relevant to the differences examined by Fallers.

The study of New World civilizations

It is axiomatic that theoretical approaches must be rooted firmly in specific bodies of empirical data and that creative interplay between the two is the major impetus to guided exploration and informed interpretation. That this is not always what happens in practice should surprise no one.

One of the most widely employed approaches to the study of New World civilizations is the “ecological,” which owes much to the work of Julian H. Steward (1955a). This approach directs attention to how the members of a given society are related to their environment—particularly to how they exploit it and to the network of social relations involved—in an effort to determine in what ways these relations illumine other aspects of their social system. The immediate antecedents of this approach may be found in papers by Pedro Armillas, Wendell C. Bennett, A. L. Kroeber, Julian H. Steward, William Duncan Strong, and Gordon R. Willey (see Bennett 1948). These papers were manifestations of a growing concern among anthropologists after World War II with comparative developmental problems in the analysis of New World civilizations. Settlement pattern data have been fruitfully used in conjunction with and as part of the process of examining ecological relations (Willey 1956). The ecological approach has been as much concerned with processes of change as with the examination of ecological relations at a moment of time (Sanders 1956).

The possible relation of irrigation to the development of centralized authority in the rise of civilization has been of interest in recent years (Witt-fogel 1957). Because irrigation was a necessity for intensive cultivation in coastal Peru and was widespread in Middle America when the Spanish arrived, and because irrigation agriculture is so highly productive, it has been the subject of much attention in New World studies. At the same time, it has been clear that Middle American and Peruvian irrigation systems were small in scale as compared with those associated with the great river valley civilizations of the Old World. It is also clear that centralization of authority sometimes preceded the development of unified irrigation systems, rather than the reverse (Symposium on Urbanization …1960, pp. 35-43, 269-295; Adams 1966, pp. 66-67; Braidwood & Willey 1962, pp. 357-358). Because most irrigation systems in Middle America and Peru were so small, there is no need to postulate the existence of centralized political systems to manage them effectively.

The role of religion in the origin and growth of New World civilizations has become a subject of increasing concern. Willey (1962) has argued that the Olmec and Chavin art styles may be symbolic expressions of ecumenical religions. The term “ecumenical,” however, may be too strong in New World contexts. A safer phrase might be “a religion with ecumenical pretensions.” This designation could be applied to the religion of the Inca, for example. Certainly, religion appears to have been an overriding concern of Middle American peoples from at least the beginnings of Olmec civilization. The same seems to be at least partially true of the ancient Peruvians. For example, intense religiosity seems to have permeated the Teotihuacan way of life. The enormous influence of Teotihuacan throughout so much of Middle America may have been due in considerable part to the power and emotional impact of its religious concepts and rituals and to the meaning of its sacred imagery to those who came under its spell. Despite the trend in Teotihuacan’s history from traditional domination by priests to increasing secularization and increasing differentiation of the religious and the military, possibly eventuating in a shift in power from the former to the latter, the “Teotihuacan way” seems to have been suffused with the religious up to the time of the city’s fall. Most of the other civilized peoples of Middle America also appear to have been dominated by a kind of religiosity that does not seem to have been present among early Chinese city dwellers, for example. Exploration of the nature of this religiosity and its social concomitants undoubtedly will continue to be of major concern in Middle American studies (see Thompson 1954; Caso 1953a; Jiménez Moreno 1966).

Another approach to social cohesion and cultural integration in ancient Middle American centers of civilization has been stressed by Eric Wolf (1959, pp. 17-18, 82-83) and Steward (1955b, pp. 61-65, 69-70). This is the possible significance of the sacred center which at the same time developed into a great market center. The interplay of temple and market could support a population of great diversity and ever-increasing complexity and could provide a ruling hierarchy with means for increasing its power. While the age of the temple-market place complex in Middle America is not known, it was so highly developed when the Spaniards arrived that it seems likely to have been long established. Although market place trade and the institutions surrounding it do not seem to have been as highly developed in the central Andes, they did exist and may also have played an important integrating role.

In his recent comparison of the growth of urban society in ancient Mesopotamia and pre-Hispanic central Mexico, Adams concluded that “we can identify intelligible, cumulative patterns of change that were strikingly similar” (1966, p. 172). In reviewing the differences between developments in the two areas, culminating in Sargon’s Akkadian kingdom and the domain of the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan, he stated: “What seems overwhelmingly most important about these differences is how small they bulk, even in aggregate, when considered against the mass of similarities in form and process. In short, the parallels … suggest that both instances are most significantly characterized by a common core of regularly occurring features” (ibid., pp. 174-175).

Relations between Middle America and Peru

A recurrent problem concerns the possible relations between civilizations in the central Andes and those in Middle America. Arguing largely from an analysis of art style, Willey has recently suggested that Olmec civilization may have been spread widely in Middle America on the crest of an “ecumenical” religion. Similarly, he has suggested that the Chavin art style, associated with the beginnings of civilization in Peru, may be an expression of another “ecumenical” religion in that region, and that Chavin religion may include Olmec concepts which spread to Peru (Willey 1962). In part, his argument grows out of the pervasiveness of the art styles in the two areas and out of the conviction that both represent primarily religious expressions. The two styles, Olmec and Chavin, are acknowledged to be quite different, and Willey does not base his case for a connection between the two areas on stylistic relationships.

Chavín art is manifested in monumental stone sculptures of great power. It shows mastery in small carvings in stone, bone, and shell, in repousse gold objects, and in modeled and incised pottery (Rowe 1962). Felines and feline and serpent elements on other beings—humans, birds, caymans— form much of its subject matter. Chavín art is widespread in Peru; but its most important centers, in terms of both art and architecture, have been found in northern Peru, in the highlands, where Chavín itself is located, and on the desert coast. The Chavín style may have flourished at approximately the same time as that of the Olmec, in the middle centuries of the first millennium b.c., perhaps beginning a bit later and continuing somewhat longer (700-200 b.c.; see Rowe 1962; Menzel et al. 1964). However, it is also possible that it began late in the second millennium b.c. Willey’s argument is stimulating, but many problems remain to be solved before any conclusion can be reached (see also Kidder 1964, pp. 459-463; Lathrap 1966, pp. 271-273).

Whatever the influence of Middle American religious conceptions on the rise of civilization in Peru, there is evidence that peoples of the New World’s two centers of civilization were intermittently in contact for considerably more than two millennia. Contacts between them were mediated and perhaps in some cases initiated by peoples living in the “intermediate” area, and contacts may also have been made directly by sea (Willey 1955; Braidwood & Willey 1962; Meggers 1964; Meggers et al. 1965; Evans & Meggers 1966; Lathrap 1966). Certain “configurational parallels in the rise of Middle American and Peruvian civilizations” which Willey saw as “not only similar but synchronous" led him to conclude that there was “a powerful argument for historical interrelatedness” (1955, pp. 586, 588). The case for interrelatedness exists on a number of levels (Lathrap 1966, p. 275). However, this “interrelatedness” need not have had the same consequences for social structure that it may have had in a variety of other, often peripheral, contexts. Whether the social and political parallels or the parallels in settlement patterns and ecological relations which existed at various times were sufficiently close either in form and content or in time and process to attribute them to this “interrelatedness” still remains to be determined.

Middle America and the central Andes compared

The ancient civilizations of Middle America and the central Andes resembled each other in many ways. Both arose in settings of spectacular topographic and environmental diversity in tropical zones. Because great mountain chains run through Middle America and the central Andes, major zones of temperate and colder climates are found in both.

The climatic and topographic barriers in Middle America and the central Andes served in varying degrees, depending on the area and the time, both to separate and to unite zones having dramatically different environments (Sanders 1956; Wolf 1959, pp. 17-18). Sharp topographical variations mean that different environmental zones may be physically quite close to each other, providing a possible basis for the exchange of distinctive products of each. This potentiality seems to have been exploited more fully in Middle America than in Peru, through institutionalized networks of market place and long-distance trade.

In both Middle America and the central Andes there were a number of centers of civilization. Monumental architecture, often in the form of pyramid temples—sometimes in stone, sometimes of earth and/or adobe faced with stone, sometimes of earth or adobe—was widespread in both regions. As we have seen, both the temple center and the city were found in each area. In both areas civilizations rose and fell, in many cases to be supplanted by new civilizations. But in some cases, such as the Maya of the southern lowlands of Guatemala and their environs, the collapse was final and partial depopulation followed (about a.d. 900).

Distinctive practices in Middle America included widespread networks of market place trade, often associated with temples or shrines; elaboration of calendrical systems, including a solar calendar of 360 days plus five nameless days, and a ritual calendar of 260 days; use of a vigesimal system of numerical notation; hieroglyphic writing (most highly developed by the Maya); the cultivation of chinampas, a labor-intensive system of garden cultivation in the shallow lakes of the Valley of Mexico; the working of jade and the value placed on it as the most precious of all substances; the widespread use of lime cement and lime plaster in construction; the ritual use of miniature wheeled animals of clay (but, so far as we know, no practical use of the wheel); and a game of ritual character played with a rubber ball on distinctively constructed courts in which vertically positioned rings of stone were often fixed (Kirchhoff 1943).

Distinctive practices in Peru included the domestication of the llama and the alpaca and the use of the llama as a draft animal (no draft animals were used in Middle America); the development of elaborate systems of roads, the most notable being that of the Inca; the great development of metallurgy, the use of alloys of gold, silver, copper, tin, and platinum, and specialized casting techniques (knowledge of certain metallurgical techniques, including the “lost-wax” method, seems to have spread relatively late to Middle America— toward the end of the first millennium a.d.—from neighboring regions of Central America or perhaps from further south); the use of the quipu and the decimal system; and shrines of great prestige where oracles were widely consulted (sometimes important pilgrimage centers, such as Pachacamac, on the central coast of Peru, had branch oracles in faraway places).

The cultivation of plants for food and other uses began in several regions of Middle America in the seventh or sixth millennium b.c. or earlier. Among the early domesticates was maize, the New World’s most important cereal plant. In Peru a variety of plants other than maize was being cultivated in the fourth and third millennia b.c. Maize cultivation does not appear to have reached Peru until toward the end of the second millennium b.c.

If we compare the two regions in terms of political development at the time of the Spanish conquest, it is clear that the empire of the Inca was larger, more complex, more effectively administered, and more secure than that of the Aztecs. Rowe argues that the Inca, during their relatively brief rule, had built a nation by the time the Spanish arrived ([1946] 1963, pp. 329-330). The same cannot be said for the Aztecs.

Before the rise of Olmec and Chavín civilizations, there was a period in both Middle America and Peru during which settled farming communities of the village type grew larger and more numerous and precursors of the great pyramids and temples of the two regions were built. In both regions the beginnings of this period extend well back into the second millennium b.c. Currently available evidence may indicate that some settlements in Peru at this time were larger and more populous and had larger temples than was the case in Middle America (for example, Las Haldas, on the north-central desert coast, and Kotosh in the north highlands; Rowe 1963; Tokyo Daigaku …1960-1963). Ceremonial structures of impressive size may even date from the third millennium b.c. on the central coast of Peru.

The Olmec and Chavín civilizations may have flourished at the same time, but in spectacularly different ecological settings—Chavin in the temperate highlands and on the desert coast, Olmec primarily in the tropical forests of the coastal lowlands but also in the subtropical to temperate highlands. The institutional settings in which each arose are obscure and not now subject to comparison except in the most general terms.

In Middle America, following the decline of Olmec influence, and in some cases arising before that decline, the great regional civilizations developed. These include the ancient Maya (see Handbook... 1965, vols. 2 and 3; M. Coe 1966); the people of the dramatic mountain top center of Monte Albán in the Oaxaca highlands, who (rather than the Olmec) may have been the first to use the bar-and-dot system of numeral notation for calendrical purposes, a system later adopted by others and greatly elaborated by the Maya (see articles by Caso, Acosta, and Bernal in Handbook … 1965, vol. 3; Paddock 1966); the peoples of lowland Veracruz—of Remojadas, Tres Zapotes, and Tajín; the people who built the great city of Teotihuacán in the Valley of Mexico; the closely related people of Cholula in the adjacent Valley of Puebla, who built the New World’s largest pyramid and who continued to flourish long after the fall of Teotihuacán; and the peoples of the southern highlands, including those who built Kaminaljuya in the Valley of Guatemala. There was an early florescence of Maya art, hieroglyphic writing, and calendrical reckoning at Kaminaljuya, but later this center was conquered by or came under strong influence from Teotihuacán (Handbook … 1965, vol. 2). These civilizations, while beginning at various times in the first millennium b.c., appear to have existed through a major part of the first millennium a.d. (Caso 1953b; Jimenez Moreno 1966; Willey 1966, pp. 78-152); some, like Cholula, were still important centers when the Spanish arrived.

In the central Andes this was also a time of regional diversity. The gifted Moche people were thriving on the north coast of Peru, where they raised monumental pyramids of adobe, put powerful armies into the field, built a small empire, and created a vivid, sophisticated art. Moche art is known to us principally in ceramics that apparently portrayed everything in Moche life, from the most sacred to the most mundane; it ranged from the most esoteric symbols to the most explicitly sexual representations (Larco Hoyle [1946] 1963, pp. 161-175). On the south coast of Peru at approximately the same time, the complex Nasca polychrome style was flourishing in a number of centers. Pachacamac and Cajamarquilla were important centers on the central coast. Tiahuanaco, in the highlands of northern Bolivia, may already have been an important center, although it apparently did not reach maturity until the succeeding period, when most of its monumental architecture seems to have been built. In the central highlands, the great site of Huari, probable capital of a loosely organized empire stretching over much of Peru in the succeeding period, was already an impressive center (Rowe 1963, p. 12; Menzel 1964, p. 66).

The succeeding period in the central Andes was a time of empire, or at any rate of military expansion, however transitory may have been the political units created. The capital of this expansive movement appears to have been the city of Huari, the religious inspiration for its cult perhaps stemming from the austere center of Tiahuanaco (Menzel 1964; Kidder 1964, pp. 468-470, 482-483). Certainly, important elements of the Huari art style stem from Tiahuanaco, whatever may have been the relation between these two centers. The spread of Huari seems to have occurred toward the end of the first millennium a.d. and may have involved the building of cities and monumental constructions in other parts of Peru. Tiahuanaco itself is a center of great size, with monumental architecture including megalithic constructions, monolithic gateways, superb stone masonry, and a powerful art style known to us primarily from stone carvings and polychrome ceramics featuring human figures, pumas, and birds.

In Middle America the period roughly corresponding in time to the Huari expansion is the period of Toltec expansionism. Tula, the capital of the Toltecs, just north of the Valley of Mexico, was the site of majestic temples with colonnades, serpent columns, colossal warrior atlantes, low-relief carvings of prowling jaguars and coyotes, and painted friezes of serpents and warriors. Toltec expansion reached as far east as Chichén Itzá in northeastern Yucatan (see Armillas 1964, pp. 314-317). It seems almost certain that Toltec expansionism took the form of conquest; yet if we compare the influence of the Toltecs in Middle America with that of the Tiahuanaco-inspired Huari expansion, the influence of Huari seems more pervasive.

To find in Middle America something approaching a parallel of Huari’s influence, we must turn to the great city of Teotihuacán. Toward the middle of the first millennium a.d. large parts of Middle America came under the influence, if not the control, of Teotihuacán. This influence did not take the same form as that of Huari, in that conquest may not have been the principal means of expansion. In any event, the people of Teotihuacán influenced a wider area for a longer time than did the Toltecs, who succeeded them.

So far as is known, the first gigantic city to develop in Peru was associated with the post-Huari Chimu empire on the north coast. The Chimu capital, Chan Chan, covered an immense area; its planned rectangular layout, rows of rooms grouped about courts, pyramids, arabesque-decorated clay surfaces, and giant adobe wall compounds form one of the most impressive achievements of central Andean civilization (Kosok 1965, pp. 70-96; Schaedel 1966, p. 534). But it remains to be established whether even Chan Chan, before its conquest by the Inca of Cuzco, was as highly developed an urban center as Teotihuacán. For that matter, Cuzco itself does not seem to have been an urban center in the same sense as was the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan (Rowe 1963, pp. 17-18).

In sum, there appear to be a number of parallels of a relatively general nature among the processes of change distinguishable in the growth of the aboriginal civilizations of Middle America and the central Andes. Among these are parallels in social institutions, in religious and political structures, in urbanization, and in trends toward secularization and increasing differentiation of the religious and the military. These parallels frequently are not close temporally, and they may occur in significantly different structural and ecological contexts. Adequate analyses of most of these parallels and the contexts in which they occur remain to be carried out.


Absolute chronology in Middle America is based on several lines of evidence: (1) the archeological sequence in the Maya lowlands, where calendrical inscriptions have been variously correlated with the Christian calendar (the correlation used is the Goodman-Martínez-Thompson correlation, usually designated the GMT correlation); such Maya “Initial Series” inscriptions roughly span the period from a.d. 300 to 900, using the GMT correlation; (2) the extension of this chronology to other regions of Middle American civilization, either directly, by cross-dating, or indirectly, through the relations of the Maya with Teotihuacán and the relations of Teotihuacán with other regions (this provides at best a loose framework of cross-dating for a.d. 300-900); (3) relating regional sequences to each other by cross-dating at other periods of time, either before or after a.d. 300-900; and (4) absolute dates provided by radiocarbon determinations. The last, while of great value, provide no ready solutions, for they are frequently difficult to interpret and sometimes appear to contradict each other.

In Peru much the same procedure has been followed, with the important exception that in Peru there is no indigenous system of absolute dating to serve as a reference point. The result is that absolute chronology in the central Andes rests largely on the use of cross-dating of regional sequences of relative chronology and on radiocarbon dating (Rowe 1963).

Existing systems of chronological periodization in Middle America and the central Andes are so confusing that they are often self-defeating, because in most of them time periods are confused with developmental “stages.” (For discussion of this point see Willey et al. 1964, pp. 477-478; Rowe [1963, pp. 1-2] employs a purely chronological classification, but it is not in general use.)

Middle American and Peruvian prehistory can be divided roughly into three great time periods following the full establishment of settled village cultivation: (1) an early period of more than a thousand years during which village life became transformed in some areas by the initial rise of civilization; (2) a middle period, covering most of the first millennium a.d., in which a number of distinct regional civilizations flourished and some perished; and (3) the centuries immediately preceding and including the Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca states in the sixteenth century.

In Middle America, Olmec civilization would fall in the early period. Teotihuacán would stretch across the latter part of the early period and most of the middle period; the same is true of the ancient Maya of the Guatemala lowlands, except that Maya centers seem to have started earlier and lasted longer. The Toltec expansion would fall in the late period but would begin in the middle period. In Peru, Chavín would fall in the early period, and Moche and Nasca would span the latter part of the early period and the early part of the middle period. The Tiahuanaco-related Huari expansion would span the end of the middle and the beginning of the late period.

The most common designations for these three periods are Preclassic (or “formative"), Classic, and Postclassic. The problem with the use of these designations lies in the developmental connotations of terms such as “classic.” Learned arguments over whether a given ancient society is “developed enough” to “belong” in the “classic,” or whether it “belongs” in the “protoclassic” or something equally contradictory, such as “formative,” are sterile. A classification system that is purely chronological can more readily facilitate the making of comparisons if it does not of itself prejudge the comparisons—implicitly or explicitly, intentionally or inadvertently—by clothing chronology in developmental terminology. Analysis of developmental problems is not thereby facilitated; it, too, becomes muddled in extraneous issues. Developmental and chronological systems should be separate and distinct.

Possible influences of Old World civilizations

Speculations on the possible Old World origins of New World civilizations began almost as soon as the Spanish conquerors had consolidated their hold on the peoples of these native civilizations. Such speculations have continued to the present day, sometimes with and sometimes without critical examination of the evidence. The problem here is to sort evidence which may bear on the rise of civilization and cities from evidence which may support earlier or later contacts (Heine-Geldern 1966; Meggers et al. 1965; Tolstoy 1966). Gordon Ekholm recently rephrased the perennial question as follows: “The question of transpacific contacts …, whether or not the civilizations of the Old World significantly influenced the origin and development of those in the New World, …has …significant …implications [for] theoretical considerations … of the factors involved in the growth of civilizations” (1964, p. 489).

Some measure of influence from Asia may be present in the civilizations of the New World, but to date none of fundamental significance has been demonstrated. It has been argued that parallels are to be found between the emphasis and mode of representation of the feline in the art of Shang China (late second millennium b.c.) and in Chavín and Olmec art. The great interest in jade and the consummate skill with which it was worked by artisans in Shang and Chou China and in Olmec Middle America may be significant (ibid., pp. 503-504). Nevertheless, as Ekholm admits, “no one has very seriously suggested an Asiatic origin for some of the major elements in the Olmec complex” (ibid.).

The possibility that Old World peoples significantly influenced New World civilization cannot be dismissed, and investigators should continue to search for supporting evidence (Caso 1962; Tolstoy 1966). At the same time, the reader should bear in mind that at this writing, available evidence indicates that New World civilizations arose independently, without any decisive influences from Old World centers (Phillips 1966; Willey 1966, pp. 21-25).


Future studies of early civilizations in the New World can be expected to make contributions to the social sciences in two related areas: (1) in achieving greater understanding of the distinctive qualities of nonindustrial urban societies in their ecological settings, through studies of ancient urban centers and through systematic comparisons of such centers with other complex settlements in their respective settings; (2) in achieving far greater understanding of processes of growth of urban and other complex settlements in nonindustrial settings through comparisons both of New World civilizations and of early civilizations and later nonindustrial civilizations in the Old World. In both of these areas it is reasonable to anticipate that increasing use will be made of the findings of social anthropology, comparative sociology, and the sociology of religion, in particular as these bear on such matters as corporate groupings and their functions, the strengths and limits of ecological interpretations, structural and other relationships directly related to cohesion and integration, the polities of nonindustrial civilizations, and the relation of differing religious forms and belief systems to problems of motivation, integration, growth, stability, and change. In turn, modification of some of these findings may occur—as, for example, in the simple conceptual distinction between “civilization” and “city”—when placed in the context of New World evidence. Where few or no historical data exist and where archeological evidence alone is involved, limitations on inferences naturally will be immensely greater.

Clearer and more precise specification of social, cultural, and other differences between great urban centers such as Teotihuacán and Tenochtitlan, on the one hand, and great temple centers such as Tikal, on the other, may be achieved through techniques of computer analysis, for such techniques greatly facilitate the juxtaposition and comparison of many variables. When more is known about Chan Chan, it should be possible to compare it substantively with Teotihuacán, Tenochtitlan, and other Middle American centers and thus arrive at a clearer conception of the concomitants of urbanism in Peru. Perhaps similar clarification of the nature of urbanism at Cuzco may be expected.

A most important development which might greatly facilitate comparisons would be major progress in the deciphering of Maya hieroglyphic writing, particularly since the recent work of Tatiana Proskouriakoff has shown it probable that many Maya inscriptions relate to “political” history (Thompson 1965, pp. 635-636).

Similarly, greater understanding of the processes of urban growth may be expected to derive from more precise comparisons between the societies of the Aztec and the Inca, between the growth of civilizations in the Valley of Mexico and in the coastal areas of Peru, and between New World centers and such Old World centers as early north China. Current investigations, principally by anthropologists, utilizing sophisticated methods to explore a wealth of unpublished documentary sources, many of them of a legal nature, on the Aztec, the Inca, and some of their contemporaries, should yield important new data and interpretations. Existing evidence of independent recurrences of a social, cultural, and processual nature suggests that a growing number of structural and developmental regularities will be found in future comparative studies.

RenÉ Millon

[See alsoarcheology, article onthe field; ecology, article oncultural ecology; evolution, article oncultural evolution. Other relevant material may be found indiffusion; middle american society.]


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Handbook of Middle American Indians. Edited by Robert Wauchope. Vol. 1— 1964— Austin: Univ. of Texas Press. → Four volumes have been published to date.

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Civilization is a concept used by anthropologists in opposition to the notions of primitive and folk cultures. As a taxonomical category it applies to cultural types characterized by organic heterogeneity and correlatively complex societal structures. Civilized societies are typically stratified and segmented, and the culture of civilization is correspondingly diversified. Organic heterogeneity means functional differentiation of subcultures—high and low, hierarchic and lay, town and country—within the whole cultural fabric of a single civilization. In evolutionary terms, the achievement of civilization represents a definite stage in the development of society and culture; as such, it contrasts with savagery and barbarism, the levels of integration that preceded civilization in the course of mankind’s progress.

Criteria of civilization

The achievement of civilization presupposes the attainment of a considerable degree of efficiency in food production; the economic foundations of civilization are everywhere based firmly on agricultural productivity. Also, technological advancement—not only techniques and crafts but, perhaps more significantly, the development of managerial skills— is functionally linked to the processes of civilization; indeed, the advent of civilization can be viewed as a revolutionary change in the relative importance in society of the moral order and the technical order (Redfield 1953, chapter 3). Nevertheless, the diagnostic criteria that serve to differentiate civilization from the stage of barbarism are social, moral, and intellectual.

Techniques such as metallurgy, the improvement of transportation through the use of the wheel and the sail, the harnessing of animal power, and the increase of agricultural productivity by means of land reclamation, soil conservation, and hydraulic control are frequently associated with the growth of civilization. Despite the undeniable functional significance of these techniques, they cannot be accepted as diagnostic criteria. Many of these features are missing from the technological inventory of some pristine civilizations and are known by noncivilized peoples, although their spread among the latter can be viewed historically as the result, in most cases, of diffusion from ancient civilization.

In the social sphere, all civilizations are characterized by systems of economic relations based on social division of labor, horizontal (specialization and segmentation) as well as vertical (stratification); control of the means of production (including human labor) by ruling classes which assume the centralization and redistribution of surpluses, contributed by the primary producers as tithe or tax, and the allocation of a labor force for public works; networks of exchange, controlled by a professional merchant class or by the state, that supersede the direct exchange of goods and services; and a political structure dominated by a segment of society that centralizes executive and administrative functions. The power of the ruling classes is backed by compulsion; the state, integrated on the bases of social class and residence— instead of tribal organization, based on descent and kinship—constitutes the nucleus of the civilized polity.

The rise of civilization is accompanied by radical transformations of the ethical systems that are correlated with the thorough reshaping of the social fabric mentioned above. As relations among men change, so do man’s views of the universe. The moral order becomes institutionalized; a hierarchical class of priests, temples (houses of the gods), state-managed cults, and a sociomorphic conception of the supernatural world (with deities arranged in some hierarchical order which reflects the increasing complexity of the earthly social system) are the hallmarks of early civilization. Also, whatever the external form the gods may assume, they are anthropomorphically conceived in their moral qualities—they are human, and often too human, in their whims, feelings, and passions. Conversely, man becomes a creature of the gods, and society is understood as a manifestation of the cosmic harmony; thus, the new social order comes to be viewed as the product of divine sanction. Civilization effects a true “remaking of man” (Redfield 1953, p. 29).

Ethical life acquires new dimensions with the rise of moral orders more inclusive than the traditional moral order of the local communities or tribal groups; ideas elaborated by an elite of literati shape the moral order. The revolutionary changes in the structure of society stimulate moral creativeness; with the growth of civilization, ideas rise as forces in history.

In the realm of the intellect, civilization is marked by the development of speculative thought, the expansion of time consciousness (retrospective and prospective), the elaboration of exact and predictive sciences (arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy), the adoption of conventional symbols for recording and transmitting information (writing and numerical notation), and the fixing of standards of time and space, and eventually also of weight.

Organically, these achievements reflect the creative activities of two new social groups of full-time specialists liberated from manual toil by the redistribution of the surpluses accumulated in temple or royal granary, or supported by the rent of corporate lands. Some of the discoveries and inventions are undoubtedly the product of the experiences of administrators and builders concerned with practical matters. However, the codification and elaboration of this knowledge and the mental exploration of abstract subjects are the work of learned men enjoying creative leisure, free to dedicate their time to reflective thought and relatively unconcerned with immediate application of the principles involved.

The accurate determination of the apparent movements of the moon and the stars, especially the exact measurement of the year in tropical regions, serves the immediate purpose of improving the regulation of the cycle of agricultural operations; its practical application is in the social sphere. But watching the sky also opens men’s minds to the mysteries of the cosmos; thus, speculative-minded practitioners of the craft may indulge in the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, far beyond the immediate requirements of computing periods—as attested by the ancient Maya extravagant elaboration of the philosophy of time. Also, the study of the gyrations of the celestial bodies impinges on the moral sphere, insofar as they come to be viewed as regulators of man’s fate. Foretelling, no less than reckoning, satisfies expectations nurtured by civilization.

The development of arithmetic is clearly related to the expansion of administration and commerce, on the one hand, and to the calendar, on the other; the rise of geometry can be linked to land measurement, which acquires paramount importance in the frame of the new economic system, and to engineering (as for hydraulic works) and monumental architecture.

As for the development of writing, some system of recording becomes a requirement for the administration of increasingly complex polities and the management of large estates and trade; however, the efficient use of sets of knotted strings for census and tax reckoning in ancient Peru attests that the system used to meet these requisites does not have to be a script. But writing, in contrast with purely mnemonic devices, has revolutionary potential : it can be developed to satisfy other emerging needs. Thus, it can be applied to the formulation of complex astronomical and mathematical information; to the compilation of laws, cosmologic lore, or dynastic lists (and eventually the substance of history); to the registration of transactions, contracts, and deeds; and even to the recording of magical incantations, a feature by no means inconsequential in early civilizations. Writing is a functionally significant criterion of civilization.

Finally, the attainment of civilization produces an expansion in aesthetic consciousness. A high art (the art of the high culture) characterized by conceptualized and sophisticated styles becomes differentiated, superseding the old forms of communal art and relegating them to a subordinate level. This phenomenon clearly reflects the increasing complexity of civilized society and the development of subcultures.

The intricate relationships between high art, the traditional folk art, and the derivative peasant art of the rural communities in a civilized society are not yet clearly understood. The concepts “monumentality,” “naturalism,” and “hieratism,” generally used to characterize the specific qualities of the high art of pristine civilizations, are not precise enough and do not suffice to define it. What is significant is that the new styles are the product of the creative activities of specially trained, professional-minded artists-craftsmen who labor to meet the demands of an elite of art patrons imbued with the new spirit. With the growth of hierarchic culture as civilization develops, the high art’s symbolism and language of form become prescribed and systematized by the same class that henceforth manages the moral order: the possessors of sacred and secular power embodied in the institutions of the temple and the palace.

History of the concept

For L. H. Morgan, whose pioneering work on the subject of cultural evolution, Ancient Society, was first published in 1877, the mark of having achieved civilization was a phonetic alphabet or, as “an equivalent,” hieroglyphic writing, and the keeping of records concerning history, law, scientific knowledge, and religion. Manifestly, this criterion emphasizes moral and intellectual progress; hence, it is important to note that Morgan’s thoughts on the subject encompassed a wider range. In fact, his forte was the study of social organization and, quite naturally, his most important perceptions on cultural evolution concern social systems. He stressed the significance, in the process of civilization, of the shift from the community integrated on principles of descent and affinity to the political society organized on the bases of function and residence. Also, he was well aware that all the other criteria used for the classification of evolutionary stages ought to be correlated with changes in the productive forces available to society for the satisfaction of its basic needs or, in his own words, “the successive arts of subsistence” he did not feel, however, that this task could be accomplished at that time because there were few investigations of ancient modes of production. Morgan noted the relation of plow agriculture and irrigated horticulture to the integration of large political entities; however, his views on the significance of irrigation were restricted by ignorance of the role of water control in the political systems of the oldest civilizations. [See the biography of Morgan, Lewis henry.]

Karl Marx read Ancient Society in 1880-1881 and made copious notes in preparation for what might have developed into a thoroughgoing commentary on Morgan’s novel ideas. Failing health, however, prevented him from doing further work on it.

Soon after the death of Marx in 1883, the task was completed by Friedrich Engels. In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, first published in 1884, Engels brilliantly glossed Ancient Society in terms of the materialistic conception of history. He refined the general scheme of social evolution by defining the transition from one stage to the next with reference to the changes in economic conditions, and he sharpened the concept of civilization as a social phenomenon.

Engels’ dynamic model stressed the role played by the consolidation and intensification of the division of labor, the growth of a system of commodity exchange controlled by a differentiated group of merchants, the development of private landownership, the concentration and centralization of wealth (i.e., social surpluses), and the cleavage of society into classes following the dissolution of “gentile” (i.e., based on kinship) organization. With the rise of civilization, the “gentile” constitution was replaced by polities structured through the grouping of members on a territorial basis and ruled by officials possessing public power and the right of taxation. Indeed, the appearance of social classes and the state constitutes the core of Engels’ view of the process of civilization. He was equally explicit about the opposition created between town and country but saw this merely as an economic phenomenon related to the whole social division of labor; he did not refer at all to the cultural aspect of the differentiation of urban and peasant societies, which has become a central theme in modern anthropological thought.

Some of Engels’ criteria, such as metallic money used as an instrument for the domination of the nonproducers over the producers, and the prevalent productive system of slave labor, are no longer tenable as criteria for the beginning of civilization; it is now well established that these characteristics do not apply to the earliest civilizations.

The theoretical formulations of Morgan, Engels, and their contemporary E. B. Tylor were deduced mainly from comparative studies of historic societies and ethnographic reports on living noncivilized peoples; Tylor, however, competently surveyed archeological information to marshal facts in support of the historical validity of their system. The modern reappraisal of the theory of social evolution in the light of inductively established sequences of cultural development was initiated by V. Gordon Childe (1936; 1942), who devoted much effort to analyzing the processes of change on the basis of the data made available by the advancement of the knowledge of prehistoric archeology [see the biography of Childe].

The focus of Childe’s definition of the concept of civilization is the city, seen as the archetype of the new social order; consequently, he coined the term “urban revolution” to characterize the achievement of civilization. The terms “civilization” and “urban revolution” are frequently taken as equivalent. Childe’s explicit statement was that the urban revolution was the culmination of a process of progressive change in economic structure and social organization; the city was the “resultant and symbol” of this revolution (1950, p. 3). This statement implies the recognition of an initial substage of preurban civilization; however, Childe failed to make clear that the terms “civilization” and “urban revolution” are not identical.

Childe’s concept of the urban revolution stimulated Robert Redfield to reorient his own thoughts on the relationships between rural and urban culture from a historical standpoint. Redfield’s ideas on the subject had developed as the result of his experience in modern Yucatan, which led him to rank communities in order of decreasing complexity—city, town, village, and bush hamlet. Originally he analyzed the relationship in merely functional terms, but by the early 1950s he had become aware of the evolutionary implications of his own formulations: the transformation of the folk community into civilized society and the explanation of peasantry as a product of the process of civilization. [See Redfield 1953; 1956; see also Peasantry.]

Redfield’s most significant contributions to the definition of civilization are (1) the conception of the institutionalization of the moral order as a characteristic of civilized societies, in contrast with the traditional ethical systems of the homogeneous local communities; (2) the formulation of the dichotomy of “great tradition-little tradition” in terms of dynamic interdependence; and (3) the description of the peasant society and culture as the rural dimension of the civilization of which it is part. His thoughts on the nature of civilization were focused on the moral and intellectual dimensions of human experience. His analysis of the process of change from folk culture to civilization and his views on the relation between the urban and rural subcultures in civilized societies rest on the interplay of the “great tradition” and the “little tradition.”

The “great tradition” is formed by the knowledge, doctrines, philosophy, and aesthetic canons of the elite—the term is approximately synonymous with “high culture” or “hierarchic culture.” The “great tradition” is shaped by reflective ideas and speculative thought, and it is consciously cultivated, systematized, and transmitted. The “little tradition” is constituted by the lore, beliefs, folk wisdom, and artistic expressions of the common people—it is the “low” or “lay” culture. The “little tradition” is molded by custom and is refractory to innovation; it is naively taken for granted, neither submitted to premeditated modifications nor handed down in a deliberate way. In the beginning, the high culture of original civilizations necessarily sprouted from the indigenous folkways. But in the course of time, once the “great tradition” and the “little tradition” become differentiated, the relationship is never one-sided; perennially they keep shaping each other. In any civilization the two traditions are interdependent—they “can be thought of as two currents of thought and action, distinguishable, yet ever flowing into and out of each other” [Red-field 1956, p. 72; see also World viewand the biography of Redfield].

Processes of civilization. Childe’s and Redfield’s formulations emphasize the dynamic role of cities in the process of civilization; accordingly, the term “urban revolution” is used to refer to the concomitant transformation of the social and cultural structure. Further research is needed on this subject. The importance of urbanization in the development of civilization must be analyzed comparatively, in the light of the inductively established evolutionary sequences. In ancient Sumer, in the Indus Valley, and in the Hwang Ho basin the phenomenon of urban congregation may be as old as civilization. But in ancient Egypt, in Mexico, and in Peru the appearance of all the other characteristics of civilization seems to have preceded the growth of urban centers. In historical perspective, the dawn of civilization does not necessarily coincide with the urban revolution.

Pedro Armillas


Childe, V. Gordon (1936) 1965 Man Makes Himself. 4th ed. London: Watts.

Childe, V. Gordon (1942) 1960 What Happened in History. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Penguin. → A paperback edition was published in 1964.

Childe, V. Gordon 1950 The Urban Revolution. Town Planning Review 21:3-17.

Childe, V. Gordon 1951 Social Evolution. New York: Schumann; London: Watts. → Based on a series of lectures delivered at the University of Birmingham in 1947/1948.

Engels, Friedrich (1884) 1942 The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. New York: International Publishers. → First published in German.

Morgan, Lewis Henry (1877) 1964 Ancient Society. Edited by Leslie A. White. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap. → First published as Ancient Society: Or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress From Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization.

Redfield, Robert 1953 The Primitive World and Its Transformations. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Redfield, Robert 1956 Peasant Society and Culture: An Anthropological Approach to Civilization. Univ. of Chicago Press. → A paperback edition, bound together with The Little Community, was published in 1961 by Cambridge University Press.

Tylor, Edward B. (1881) 1907 Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization. New York: Appleton. → An abridged paperback edition was published in 1960 by the University of Michigan Press.

Urban Sociology

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Urban sociology studies human groups in a territorial frame of reference. In this field, social organization is the major focus of inquiry, with an emphasis on the interplay between social and spatial organization and the ways in which changes in spatial organization affect social and psychological well being. A wide variety of interests are tied together by a common curiosity about the changing dynamics, determinants, and consequences of urban society's most characteristic form of settlement: the city.

Scholars recognized early that urbanization is accompanied by dramatic structural, cognitive, and behavioral changes. Classic sociologists (Durkheim, Weber, Toinnes, Marx) delineated the differences in institutional forms that seemed to accompany the dual processes of urbanization and industrialization as rural-agrarian societies were transformed into urban-industrial societies (see Table 1).

Several key questions that guide contemporary research are derived from this tradition: How are human communities organized? What forces produce revolutionary transformations in human settlement patterns? What organizational forms accompany these transformations? What differences do urban living make, and why do those differences exist? What consequences does the increasing size of human concentrations have for human beings, their social worlds, and their environment?

Students of the urban scene have long been interested in the emergence of cities (Childe 1950), how cities grow and change (Weber 1899), and unique ways of life associated with city living (Wirth 1938). These classic treatments have historical value for understanding the nature of pre-twentieth-century cities, their determinants, and their human consequences, but comparative analysis of contemporary urbanization processes leads Berry (1981, p. xv) to conclude that "what is apparent is an accelerating change in the nature of change itself, speedily rendering not-yet-conventional wisdom inappropriate at best."

Urban sociologists use several different approaches to the notion of community to capture changes in how individual urbanites are tied together into meaningful social groups and how those groups are tied to other social groups in the broader territory they occupy. An interactional community is indicated by networks of routine, face-to-face primary interaction among the members of a group. This is most evident among close friends and in families, tribes, and closely knit locality groups. An ecological community is delimited by routine patterns of activity that its members engage in to meet the basic requirements of daily life. It corresponds with the territory over which the group ranges in performing necessary activities such as work, sleep, shopping, education,

Table 1
classic contrasts between urban and rural societies
integrative mechanismspecializationcommon experience
normative standardsuniversalisticparticularistic
normative structureanomicintegrated
problem solutionrationaltraditional
social controlrestitutiverepressive
social relationssegmentalizedall encompassing
stratificationachieved statusascribed status
valuesmoney and powerfamily
world viewssecularsacred

and recreation. Compositional communities are clusters of people who share common social characteristics. People of similar race, social status, or family characteristics, for example, form a compositional community. A symbolic community is defined by a commonality of beliefs and attitudes among its members. Its members view themselves as belonging to the group and are committed to it.

Research on the general issue of how these forms of organization change as cities grow has spawned a voluminous literature. An ecological perspective and a sociocultural perspective guide two major research traditions. Ecological studies focus on the role of economic competition in shaping the urban environment. Ecological and compositional communities are analyzed in an attempt to describe and generalize about urban forms and the processes of urban growth (Hawley 1981).

Sociocultural studies emphasize the importance of cultural, psychological, and other social dimensions of urban life. These studies focus on the interactional and symbolic communities that characterize the urban setting (Wellman and Leighton 1979; Suttles 1972).

Early theoretical work suggested that the most evident consequence of the increasing size, density, and heterogeneity of human settlements was a breakdown of social ties, a decline in the family, alienation, an erosion of moral codes, and social disorganization (Wirth 1938). Later empirical research has clearly shown that in general, urbanites are integrated into meaningful social groups (Fischer 1984).

The sociocultural tradition suggests that cultural values derive from socialization into a variety of subcultures and are relatively undisturbed by changes in ecological processes. Different subcultures select, are forced into, or unwittingly drift into different areas that come to exhibit the characteristics of a particular subculture (Gans 1962). Fischer (1975) combines the ecological and subcultural perspectives by suggesting that size, density, and heterogeneity are important but that they produce integrated subcultures rather than fostering alienation and community disorganization. Size provides the critical masses necessary for viable unconventional subcultures to form. With increased variability in the subcultural mix in urban areas, subcultures become more intensified as they defend their ways of life against the broad array of others in the environment. The more subcultures, the more diffusion of cultural elements, and the greater the likelihood of new subcultures emerging, creating the ever-changing mosaic of unconventional subcultures that most distinguishes large places from small ones.

Empirical approaches to urban organization vary according to the unit of analysis and what is being observed. Patterns of activity (e.g., commuting, retail sales, crime) and characteristics of people (e.g., age, race, income, household composition) most commonly are derived from government reports for units of analysis as small as city blocks and as large as metropolitan areas. These types of data are used to develop general principles of organization and change in urban systems. General questions range from how certain activities and characteristics come to be organized in particular ways in space to why certain locales exhibit particular characteristics and activities. Territorial frameworks for the analysis of urban systems include neighborhoods, community areas, cities, urban areas, metropolitan regions, nations, and the world.

Observations of networks of interaction (e.g., visiting patterns, helping networks) and symbolic meanings of people (e.g., alienation, values, worldviews) are less systematically available because social surveys are more appropriate for obtaining this kind of information. Consequently, less is known about these dimensions of community than is desirable.

It is clear that territoriality has waned as an integrative force and that new forms of extralocal community have emerged. High mobility, an expanded scale of organization, and an increased range and volume of communication flow coalesce to alter the forms of social groups and their organization in space (Greer 1962). With modern communication and transportation technology, as exists in the United States today, space becomes less of an organizing principle and new forms of territorial organization emerge that reflect the power of large-scale corporate organization and the federal government in shaping urban social and spatial organization (Gottdiener 1985).

Hawley's (1950, 1981) ecological approach to the study of urban communities serves as the major paradigm in contemporary research. This approach views social organization as developing in response to basic problems of existence that all populations face in adapting to their environments. The urban community is conceptualized as the complex system of interdependence that develops as a population collectively adapts to an environment, using whatever technology is available. Population, environment, technology, and social organization interact to produce various forms of human communities at different times and in different places (Table 2). Population is conceptualized as an organized group of humans that function routinely as a unit; the environment is defined as everything that is external to the population, including other organized social groups. Technological advances allow people to expand and redefine the nature of the relevant environment and therefore influence the forms of community organization that populations develop (Duncan 1973).

In the last half of the twentieth century, there were revolutionary transformations in the size and nature of human settlements and the nature of the interrelationships among them (Table 3). The global population "explosion" created by an unprecedented rapid decline in human mortality in less developed regions of the world after 1950 provided the additional people necessary for this population "implosion:" the rapid increase in the size and number of human agglomerations of unprecedented size. Urban sociology attempts to understand the determinants and consequences of this transformation.

The urbanization process involves an expansion in the entire system of interrelationships by which a population maintains itself in its habitat (Hawley 1981, p. 12). The most evident consequences of the process and the most common measures of it are an increase in the number of people at points of population concentration, an increase in the number of points at which population is concentrated, or both (Eldridge 1956). Theories of urbanization attempt to understand how human settlement patterns change as technology expands the scale of social systems.

Because technological regimes, population growth mechanisms, and environmental contingencies change over time and vary in different regions of the world, variations in the pattern of distribution of human settlements generally can be understood by attending to these related processes. In the literature on urbanization, an interest in the organizational forms of systems of cities is complemented by an interest in how growth is accommodated in cities through changes in density gradients, the location of socially meaningful population subgroups, and patterns of urban activities. Although the expansion of cities has been the historical focus in describing the urbanization process, revolutionary developments in transportation, communication, and information technology in the last fifty years expanded the scale of urban systems and directed attention toward the broader system of the form of organization in which cities emerge and grow.

Table 2
Comparative Urban Features of Major World Regions
basic featurenineteenth century north americatwentieth century north americathird worldpostwar europe
source: abstracted from berry 1981.
summaryconcentratedspread outconstrainedplanned
size1–2 million14 million19 million8 million
timing250 years long periodemergent no pressurevery rapid since 1950svery slow stationary
scaleregional and localinter-metro and globalglobal and localnational and local
city systemrank size regionaldaily urban nationalprimate nationalrank size national
occupationssecondary manufacturetertiary servicesfamily and corporatediverse mixture
spatial mixzone-sector core focusmutlinodal mosaicreverse zonaloverlayed mixed use
rural–urban differencesgreat in all areasnarrow and decliningmedium and growingnarrow except work
status mixdiverse hierarchicalhigh overall poor pocketsbifurcated high % poormedium compacted
migrationheavy rural-urban and foreigninter-metro and foreignheavy rural-urban circulationforeign skilled
planninglaissez-faire capitalismdecentral, ineffectivecentralized, ineffectivedecentral, effective

Much research on the urbanization process is descriptive in nature, with an emphasis on identifying and measuring patterns of change in demographic and social organization in a territorial frame of reference. Territorially circumscribed environments employed as units of analysis include administrative units (villages, cities, counties, states, nations), population concentrations (places, agglomerations, urbanized areas), and networks of interdependency (neighborhoods, metropolitan areas, daily urban systems, city systems, the earth).

The American urban system is suburbanizing and deconcentrating. One measure of suburbanization is the ratio of the rate of growth in the ring to that in the central city over a decade (Schnore 1959). While some Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) began suburbanizing in the late 1800s, the greatest rates for the majority of places occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. Widespread use of the automobile, inexpensive energy, the efficient production of materials for residential infrastructure, and federal housing policy allowed metropolitan growth to be absorbed by sprawl instead of by increased congestion at the center.

As the scale of territorial organization increased, so did the physical distances between black and white, rich and poor, young and old, and other meaningful population subgroups. The Index of Dissimilarity measures the degree of segregation between two groups by computing the percentage of one group that would have to reside on a different city block for it to have the same proportional distribution across urban space as the group to which it is being compared (Taeuber and Taeuber 1965). Although there has been some decline in indices of dissimilarity between black and white Americans since the 1960s, partly as a result of increasing black suburbanization, the index for the fifteen most segregated MSAs in 1990 remained at or above 80, meaning that 80 percent or more of the blacks would have had to live on different city blocks to have the same distribution in space as whites; thus, a very high

Table 3
Population of World's Largest Metropolises (in millions), 1950–2000 and Percent Change, 1950–2000
metropolis19502000% change
source: adapted from dogan and kasarda (1988b) table 1.2.
mexico city, mexico3.126.3748
sao paulo, brazil2.824.0757
tokyo/yokohama, japan6.717.1155
calcutta, india4.416.6277
greater bombay, india2.916.0452
new york/northeastern n.j., usa12.415.525
seoul, republic of korea1.113.5113
shanghai, china10.313.531
rio de janeiro, brazil3.513.3280
delhi, india1.413.2843
greater buenos aires, argentina5.313.2149
cairo/giza/imbaba, egypt2.513.2428
jakarta, indonesia1.812.8611
baghdad, iraq0.612.82033
teheran, iran0.912.71311
karachi, pakistan1.012.11110
istanbul, turkey1.011.91090
los angeles/long beach, cailf., usa4.111.2173
dacca, bangladesh0.411.22700
manila, philippines1.611.1594
beijing (peking), china6.710.861
moscow, ussr4.810.1110
total world population2,5006,300152

degree of residential segregation remains. Although there is great social status diversity in central cities and increasing diversity in suburban rings, disadvantaged and minority populations are overrepresented in central cities, while the better educated and more affluent are overrepresented in suburban rings.

A related process—deconcentration—involves a shedding of urban activities at the center and is indicated by greater growth in employment and office space in the ring than in the central city. This process was under way by the mid-1970s and continued unabated through the 1980s. A surprising turn of events in the late 1970s was signaled by mounting evidence that nonmetropolitan counties were, for the first time since the Depression of the 1930s, growing more rapidly than were metropolitan counties (Lichter and Fuguitt 1982). This process has been referred to as "deurbanization" and "the nonmetropolitan turnaround." It is unclear whether this trend represents an enlargement of the scale of metropolitan organization to encompass more remote counties or whether new growth nodes are developing in nonmetropolitan areas.

The American urban system is undergoing major changes as a result of shifts from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, the aging of the population, and an expansion of organizational scale from regional and national to global decision making. Older industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest lost population as the locus of economic activity shifted from heavy manufacturing to information and residentiary services. Cities in Florida, Arizona, California, and the Northwest have received growing numbers of retirees seeking environmental, recreational, and medical amenities that are not tied to economic production. Investment decisions regarding the location of office complexes, the factories of the future, are made more on the basis of the availability of an educated labor pool, favorable tax treatment, and the availability of amenities than on the basis of the access to raw materials that underpinned the urbanization process through the middle of the twentieth century.

The same shifts are reflected in the internal reorganization of American cities. The scale of local communities has expanded from the central business district–oriented city to the multinodal metropolis. Daily commuting patterns are shifting from radial trips between bedroom suburbs and workplaces in the central city to lateral trips among highly differentiated subareas throughout urban regions. Urban villages with affluent residences, high-end retail minimalls, and office complexes are emerging in nonmetropolitan counties beyond the reach of metropolitan political constraints, creating even greater segregation between the most and least affluent Americans

Deteriorating residential and warehousing districts adjacent to new downtown office complexes are being rehabilitated for residential use by childless professionals, or "gentry." The process of gentrification, or the invasion of lower-status deteriorating neighborhoods of absentee-owned rental housing by middle- to upper-status home or condominium owners, is driven by a desire for accessibility to nearby white-collar jobs and cultural amenities as well as by the relatively high costs of suburban housing, which have been pushed up by competing demand in these rapidly growing metropolitan areas. Although the number of people involved in gentrification is too small to have reversed the overall decline of central cities, the return of affluent middle-class residents has reduced segregation to some extent. Gentrification reclaims deteriorated neighborhoods, but it also results in the displacement of the poor, who have no place else to live at rents they can afford (Feagin and Parker 1990).

The extent to which dispersed population is involved in urban systems is quite variable. An estimated 90 percent of the American population now lives in a daily urban system (DUS). These units are constructed from counties that are allocated to economic centers on the basis of commuting patterns and economic interdependence. The residents of a DUS are closely tied together by efficient transportation and communication technology. Each DUS has a minimum population of 200,000 in its labor shed and constitutes "a multinode, multiconnective system [which] has replaced the core dominated metropolis as the basic urban unit" (Berry and Kasarda 1977, p. 304). Less than 4 percent of the American labor force is engaged in agricultural occupations. Even the residents of remote rural areas are mostly "urban" in their activities and outlook.

In contrast, many residents of uncontrolled developments on the fringes of emerging megacities in less developed countries are practically isolated from the urban center and live much as they have for generations. Over a third of the people in the largest cities in India were born elsewhere, and the maintenance of rural ways of life in those cities is common because of a lack of urban employment, the persistence of village kinship ties, and seasonal circulatory migration to rural areas. Although India has three of the ten largest cities in the world, it remains decidedly rural, with 75 percent of the population residing in agriculturally oriented villages (Nagpaul 1988).

The pace and direction of the urbanization process are closely tied to technological advances. As industrialization proceeded in western Europe and the United States over a 300-year period, an urban system emerged that reflected the interplay between the development of city-centered heavy industry and requirements for energy and raw materials from regional hinterlands. The form of city systems that emerged has been described as rank-size. Cities in that type of system form a hierarchy of places from large to small in which the number of places of a given size decreases proportionally to the size of the place. Larger places are fewer in number, are more widely spaced, and offer more specialized goods and services than do smaller places (Christaller 1933).

City systems that emerged in less industrialized nations are primate in character. In a primate system, the largest cities absorb far more than their share of societal population growth. Sharp breaks exist in the size hierarchy of places, with one or two very large, several medium-sized, and many very small places. Rapid declines in mortality beginning in the 1950s, coupled with traditionally high fertility, created unprecedented rates of population growth. Primate city systems developed with an orientation toward the exportation of raw materials to the industrialized world rather than manufacturing and the development of local markets. As economic development proceeds, it occurs primarily in the large primate cities, with very low rates of economic growth in rural areas. Consequently, nearly all the excess of births over deaths in the nation is absorbed by the large cities, which are more integrated into the emerging global urban system (Dogan and Kasarda 1988a).

Megacities of over 10 million population are a very recent phenomenon, and their number is increasing rapidly. Their emergence can be understood only in the context of a globally interdependent system of relationships. The territorial bounds of the relevant environment to which population collectively adapts have expanded from the immediate hinterland to the entire world in only half a century.

Convergence theory suggests that cities throughout the would will come to exhibit organizational forms increasingly similar to one another, converging on the North American pattern, as technology becomes more accessible globally (Young and Young 1962). Divergence theory suggests that increasingly divergent forms of urban organization are likely to emerge as a result of differences in the timing and pace of the urbanization process, differences in the positions of cities in the global system, and the increasing effectiveness of deliberate planning of the urbanization process by centralized governments holding differing values and therefore pursuing a variety of goals for the future (Berry 1981).

The importance of understanding this process is suggested by Hawley (1981, p. 13): "Urbanization is a transformation of society, the effects of which penetrate every sphere of personal and collective life. It affects the status of the individual and opportunities for advancement, it alters the types of social units in which people group themselves, and it sorts people into new and shifting patterns of stratification. The distribution of power is altered, normal social processes are reconstituted, and the rules and norms by which behavior is guided are redesigned."


Berry, Brian J. L. 1981. Comparative Urbanization: Divergent Paths in the Twentieth Century. New York: St. Martins.

——, and John D. Kasarda 1977 Contemporary Urban Ecology. New York: Macmillan.

Childe, V. Gordon 1950 "The Urban Revolution." Town Planning Review 21:4–7.

Christaller, W. 1933 Central Places in Southern Germany, transl. C. W. Baskin. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Dogan, Mattei, and John D. Kasarda 1988a The Metropolis Era: A World of Giant Cities, vol. 1. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

—— 1988b. "Introduction: How Giant Cities Will Multiply and Grow." In Mattei Dogan and John D. Kasarda, eds., The Metropolis Era: A World of Giant Cities, vol. 1. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Duncan, Otis Dudley 1973 "From Social System to Ecosystem." In Michael Micklin, ed., Population, Environment, and Social Organization: Current Issues in Human Ecology Hinsdale, Ill.: Dryden.

Eldridge, Hope Tisdale 1956 "The Process of Urbanization." In J. J. Spengler and O. D. Duncan, eds., Demographic Analysis. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

Feagin, Joe R., and Robert Parker 1990 Building American Cities: The Urban Real Estate Game, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Fischer, Claude S. 1975 "Toward a Subcultural Theory of Urbanism." American Journal of Sociology 80:1319–1341.

—— 1984 The Urban Experience. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Gans, Herbert J. 1962 "Urbanism and Suburbanism as Ways of life: A Reevaluation of Definitions." In A. M. Rose, ed., Human Behavior and Social Processes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gottdiener, Mark 1985 The Social Production of Urban Space. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Greer, Scott 1962 The Emerging City. New York: Free Press.

Hawley, Amos H. 1950 Human Ecology: A Theory of Community Structure. New York: Ronald.

—— 1981 Urban Society: An Ecological Approach. New York: Wiley.

Kleniewski, Nancy 1997 Cities, Change, and Conflict: A Political Economy of Urban Life. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth.

Lichter, Daniel T., and Glenn V. Fuguitt 1982 "The Transition to Nonmetropolitan Population Deconcentration." Demography 19:211–221.

Nagpaul, Hans 1988 "India's Giant Cities." In Mattei Dogan and John D. Kasarda, eds., The Metropolis Era: A World of Giant Cities, vol. 1. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Palen, J. John 1997 The Urban World. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Schnore, Leo F. 1959 "The Timing of Metropolitan Decentralization." Journal of the American Institute of Planners 25:200–206.

Suttles, Gerald 1972 The Social Construction of Communities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Taeuber, Karl E., and Alma F. Taeuber 1965 Negroes in Cities: Residential Segregation and Neighborhood Change. Chicago: Aldine.

Weber, Adna F. 1899 The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wellman, B., and B. Leighton 1979 "Networks, Neighborhoods and Communities: Approaches to the Study of the Community Question." Urban Affairs Quarterly 15:369–393.

Wirth, Louis 1938 "Urbanism as a Way of Life." American Journal of Sociology 44:1–24.

Young, Frank, and Ruth Young 1962 "The Sequence and Direction of Community Growth: A Cross-Cultural Generalization." Rural Sociology 27:374–386.

Lee J. Haggerty

Anthropology, Urban

views updated May 14 2018

Anthropology, Urban



Throughout history, cities have been important places of associated life, human diversity, and interaction. However, while twentieth-century sociologists have been at the forefront of urban studies, social and cultural anthropologists have long neglected the city as a relevant field of research. In the late 1930s a few anthropologists, such as Robert Redfield (1897-1958), shifted their attention from tribal and rural communities to peasant city-dwellers. Influenced by the Chicago school, some American anthropologists engaged in problem-centered studies that focused on poverty, ecology, and minorities; they developed such concepts as the culture of poverty, cited by Oscar Lewis in Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty (1959). Many of these studies examined rural-urban migration in slums and shanty towns in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Meanwhile, a group of anthropologists led by the South African Max Gluckman at the Rhodes Livingston Institute of Northern Rhodesia studied the effects of urbanization on tribal economy and social relations, particularly in the Copperbelt area of central Africa. Research in African cities, however, was not really considered urban research, according to Ralph D. Grillo in Ideologies and Institutions in Urban France: The Representation of Immigrants (1985). Although such pioneering work was later criticized for its functionalist approach, it did contribute to the development of new anthropological methods, such as case and network analysis.

More generally, anthropologists seemed to consider the city a new laboratory in which to carry out traditional studies on kinship, small-group dynamics, and belief and value systems. This trend continued throughout the 1960s, prompting Ulf Hannerz in Exploring the City; Inquiries toward an Urban Anthropology (1980) to question whether urban anthropology had a specific subject of study.

A more eclectic and regionally diversified urban anthropology emerged during the 1970s as field research was conducted in Japan, India, and Indonesia, and across Africa and South America. Such socioeconomic and geopolitical variety raised some confusion in precisely defining the term urban. For some, urban referred to population aggregates of a certain size. Others defined urban in terms of occupations other than agricultural or subsistence production. Still others defined urban as the density of social interaction rather than just demographic or physical density. From a Marxist perspective, it was argued that class struggle constituted the essence of urban life. Two main positions eventually emerged. One regarded the city as a totality that should be studied in itself. The other argued that the city could not be studied as an isolated unit separated from the wider national and international context. Richard G. Fox in Urban Anthropology: Cities in Their Cultural Setting (1977) expanded on this position by including historical analysis in the locally significant global context.

By the early 1980s anthropologists appeared to be divided between those who focused on so-called third-world societiescontinuing to address town-country relations, rural migration, and urban adaptationand those with an interest in industrial societies. The latter were mainly native anthropologists.

In Euro-American societies, urban anthropology grew in parallel to the study of the anthropologists own society. However, many European anthropologists, especially in Britain, regarded the study of ones own society as not distant enough to be fit for anthropological research. In contrast, American anthropologists had a long tradition of domestic interest. Their so-called exotic subjects were American Indians, urban migrants, and immigrant ethnic communities. Hannerz, who had carried out a pioneering study of ghetto culture and community in Soulside (1969), later criticized this approach for viewing the city as a mosaic in which each piece presented different problems. In his later work, Exploring the City (1980), he saw the failure to bring together the various pieces as a major limitation of earlier urban research. Criticism aside, American anthropologists such as Ida Susser (1982) and Leith Mullings (1997) have produced in-depth analyses on such issues as urban poverty, ethnicity, and gender.


Anthropologists reluctance to engage in urban research originated in the fear of losing their disciplinary identity and in the view that the disciplinary paradigm, which had been developed for the study of village and tribal communities, could not be applied to larger, more complex communities. This debate developed into an advocacy for new methods.

While urban geographers such as Doreen Massey (1999) and sociologists such as Herbert J. Gans (1967) have become increasingly interested in the ethnographic methodology, anthropologists such as Sandra Wallman have doubted the applicability of participant observation in metropolitan areas. In her research in East London, published in Eight London Households (1984), Wallman applied research methods borrowed from other disciplines, calling it anthropology by proxy. In contrast, Italo Pardos research in Naples in the mid-1980s, presented in Managing Existence in Naples (1996), eminently proved that not only was participant observation possible, but that a holistic study in the anthropological tradition could productively be done in urban Europe. Key points of Pardos work are a focus on the agency-system relationship, on the link between micro- and macro-level analysis, and on the sociological relevance of strong continuous interaction (Pardo 1996, pp. 11-12) between the material and the nonmaterial in peoples rational choices. New urban research followed, including that of Giuliana B. Prato (2000), on the interactions among economic, political, and cultural aspects of urban life, which contextual-ized local dynamics and change in national historical processes. Later works, such as that of Manos Spyridakis (2006), have used such an approach to examine the relationships between local and national processes and global restructuring.

The diversity of the societies studied by anthropologists inevitably led to different forms of urban anthropology worldwide. In the 1980s a new trend emerged in the United States. Apart from studying the poor, the marginal, and ethnic minorities, anthropologists began to examine such topics as inherited wealth, congressional patronage, and transnational migrants. Ethnographies on African societies moved to new grounds, examining the dramaturgy of power and status symbolism, the economic role of women, informal activities, ethnic conflict, the reemergence of witchcraft, and new urban segregation. Work, class, gender, religion, and bureaucracy, along with urban planning, became major topics of urban research in Asia. Many urban ethnographies on Latin America focused on economic policies, local politics, womens work, urban development and planning, and indigenous rights.

Urban research in Europe appeared more geographically diversified in the early years of the twenty-first century. Sweden was at the forefront of urban research, addressing welfare institutions, class, and culture in relation to ethnicity. In Britain, apart from a few exceptions, urban research mainly focused on ethnic groups from Commonwealth countries. Urban France attracted the attention of both British and native anthropologists. In spite of a slow start, more urban research was carried out in southern and eastern Europe.

The fields of study mentioned thus far are by no means exhaustive of urban anthropological research. They represent major trends that have developed over the years. Throughout the 1990s, new developments in urban anthropologynotably those of Pardo (2000, 2004)have investigated the relationships among elite groups, those between ordinary people and the ruling elite, and the legitimacy of governance. In the early twenty-first centurymarked by transnationalism, globalization, the reemergence of localism, and the project of multicultural-ismthis trend addressed the urgent need to understand the city as a crucial arena in which citizenship, democracy, and, by extension, belonging are critically renegotiated and the morality of law and politics are increasingly questioned and scrutinized.

SEE ALSO Anthropology; Chicago School; Cities; Class; Colonialism; Culture; Elite Theory; Elites; Ethnography; Functionalism; Geography; Ghetto; Marxism; Metropolis; Migration, Rural to Urban; Multiculturalism; Observation, Participant; Slums; Sociology, Urban; Suburbs; Urban Renewal; Urban Studies; Urbanization; Welfare State


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Antoun, Richard T. 2005. Documenting Transnational Migration. New York: Berghahn Books.

Appadurai, Arjun. 1981. Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule: A South Indian Case. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Appadurai, Arjun, and James Holston. 1999. Introduction: Cities and Citizenship. In Cities and Citizenship, ed. James Holston. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Cohen, Abner. 1981. The Politics of Elite Culture: Explorations in the Dramaturgy of Power in a Modern African Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cornelius, Wayne, and Robert Kemper, eds. 1978. Metropolitan Latin America: The Challenge and the Response. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

El-Kholy, Heba Aziz. 2002. Defiance and Compliance: Negotiating Gender in Low-Income Cairo. New York: Berghahn Books.

Fox, Richard G. 1977. Urban Anthropology: Cities in Their Cultural Setting. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Gans, Herbert J. 1967. The Levittowners; Ways of Life and Politics in a New Suburban Community. New York: Pantheon Books.

Grillo, Ralph D. 1985. Ideologies and Institutions in Urban France: The Representation of Immigrants. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Hannerz, Ulf. 1969. Soulside; Inquiries into Ghetto Culture and Community. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hannerz, Ulf. 1980. Exploring the City; Inquiries toward an Urban Anthropology. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lewis, Oscar. 1959. Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty. New York: Basic Books.

Makhulu, Anne-Maria. 2002. New Housing, New Dreams? Southern Delft Housing Scheme, Cape Town, South Africa. Public Culture 14 (3): 643.

Massey, Doreen, John Allen, and Steve Pile, eds. 1999. City Worlds. London: Routledge.

Mullings, Leith. 1997. On Our Own Terms: Race, Class, and Gender in the Lives of African American Women. New York: Routledge.

Ortega-Perrier, Marietta. 2006. The 1993 Indian Law and the Revival of Aymara Identity in Northernmost Chile. In Political Ideology, Identity, Citizenship: Anthropological Approaches, ed. Giuliana B. Prato, 31-43. Special issue of Global Bioethics, Vol. 19.

Pardo, Italo. 1996. Managing Existence in Naples: Morality, Action, and Structure. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Pardo, Italo, ed. 2000. Morals of Legitimacy: Between Agency and System. New York: Berghahn Books.

Pardo, Italo, ed. 2004. Between Morality and the Law: Corruption, Anthropology, and Comparative Society. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate.

Parry, Jonathan. 2000. The Crisis of Corruption and the Idea of India: A Worms Eye View. In Morals of Legitimacy: Between Agency and System, ed. Italo Pardo, 27-55. New York: Berghahn Books.

Prato, Giuliana B. 2000. The Cherries of the Mayor: Degrees of Morality and Responsibility in Local Italian Administration. In Morals of Legitimacy: Between Agency and System, ed. Italo Pardo, 57-82. New York: Berghahn Books.

Redfield, Robert. 1941. The Folk Culture of Yucatan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Spyridakis, Manos. 2006. The Political Economy of Labor Relations in the Context of Greek Shipbuilding: An Ethnographic Account. History and Anthropology 17 (2): 153-170.

Susser, Ida. 1982. Norman Street: Poverty and Politics in an Urban Neighborhood. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wallman, Sandra. 1984. Eight London Households. London: Tavistock Publications.

Giuliana B. Prato

Sociology, Urban

views updated May 17 2018

Sociology, Urban


As the cutting edge of change, cities are important for interpreting societies. Momentous changes in nineteenth-century cities led theorists to explore their components. The French word for place (bourg ), and its residents (bourgeois ), became central concepts for Karl Marx (18181883). Markets and commerce emerged in cities where free air ostensibly fostered innovation. Industrial capitalists thus raised capital and built factories near cities, hiring workers free from the feudal legal hierarchy. For Marx, workers were proletarians and a separate economic class, whose interests conflicted with the bourgeoisie. Class conflicts drove history. Max Webers (18641920) The City (1921) built on this legacy but added legitimacy, bureaucracy, the Protestant ethic, and political parties in transforming cities. Émile Durkheim (18581917) similarly reasoned historically, contrasting traditional villages with modern cities in his Division of Labor (1893), where multiple professional groups integrated their members by enforcing norms on them.

British and American work was more empirical. British and American churches and charitable groups that were concerned with the urban poor sponsored many early studies. When sociology entered universities around 1900, urban studies still focused on inequality and the poor. Robert Park (18641944) and many students at the University of Chicago thus published monographs on such topics as The Gold Coast and the Slum (1929), a sociological study of Chicagos near north side by Harvey Warren Zorbaugh (18961965).

The 1940s and 1950s saw many efforts to join these European theories with the British and American empirical work. Floyd Hunter published Community Power Structure (1953), an Atlanta-based monograph that stressed the business dominance of cities, broadly following Marx. Robert Dahls Who Governs? (1961) was more Weberian, stressing multiple issue areas of power and influence (like mayoral elections versus schools), the indirect role of citizens via elections, and multiple types of resources (money, votes, media, coalitions) that shifted how basic economic categories influenced politics. These became the main ideas in power analyses across the social sciences.

Parisian theorists like Michel Foucault (19261984), Pierre Bourdieu (19302002), and Henri Lefebvre (19011991) suggested that the language and symbols of upper-status persons dominated lower-status persons. Others, such as Jean Baudrillard, pushed even further to suggest that each person was so distinct that theories should be similarly individualized. He and others labeled their perspective postmodernism to contrast with mainstream science, which they suggested reasoned in a linear, external, overly rational manner. Urban geographers like David Harvey joined postmodernist themes with concepts of space to suggest a sea change in architecture, planning, and aesthetics, as well as in theorizing, although Harveys main analytical driver is global capitalism.

Saskia Sassen starts from global capitalism but stresses local differences in such world cities as New York, London, and Tokyo. Why these? Because the headquarters of global firms are there, with producer services that advise major firms, and market centers where sophisticated legal and financial transactions are spawned. Individual preferences enter, via global professionals and executives who like big-city living, but hire nannies and chauffeurs, attracting global migrants, which increases (short-term, within city) inequality. Some affluent persons create gated housing, especially in areas with high crime and kidnapping, like Latin America.

These past theories stress work and production. A new conceptualization adds consumption. Walter Benjamin (18921940) theorized that the flaneur drove the modern capitalist economy, by shopping. Typified by the top-hatted gentleman in impressionist paintings, the flaneur pursued his aesthetic sensitivities, refusing standardized products. Mall rats continue his quest.

Theories have grown more bottom-up than top-down, as have many cities, although this is controversial, as some capital and corporations are increasingly global. The father of bottom-up theory is Alexis de Tocqueville (18051859), whose Democracy in America (18351840) stressed community associations like churches. Linked to small and autonomous local governments, these associations gave (ideally) citizens the ability to participate meaningfully in decisions affecting them. Such experiences built networks of social relations and taught values of participation, democracy, and trust.

In the late twentieth century, Tocqueville and civic groups became widely debated as nations declined and cities competed for investors, residents, and tourists. With the cold war over, globalization encourages more cross-national travel, communication, investment, and trade. Local autonomy rose. But nations declined in their delivery of egalitarian welfare benefits, since ideal standards are increasingly international. Human rights is a new standard. Yet the world is too large to implement the most costly specifics, even if they remain political goals.

Over the twentieth century, many organizations shifted from the hierarchical and centralized to the smaller and more participatory. The community power literature from Hunter (1953) to Dahl (1961) and beyond suggests a decline in the monolithic city governance pattern that Hunter described in Atlanta. Dahl documented a more participatory, pluralistic decision-making process, where multiple participants combine and pyramid their resources to shift decisions in separate issue areas.

New social movements (NSMs) emerged in the 1970s, extending past individualism and egalitarianism and joining consumption and lifestyle to the classic production issues of unions and parties. These new civic groups pressed new agendasecology, feminism, peace, gay rightsthat older political parties ignored. In Europe, the national state and parties were the hierarchical establishment opposed by NSMs. In the United States, local business and political elites were more often targeted. Other aesthetic and amenity concerns have also arisen like suburban sprawl, sports stadiums, and parks; these divide people less into rich versus poor than did class and party politics.

Comparative studies emerged after the 1980s of thousands of cities around the world. They have documented the patterns discussed above, and generally show that citizens and leaders globally are more decentralized, egalitarian, and participatory. The New Political Culture (1998), edited by Terry Nichols Clark and Vincent Hoffmann-Martinot, charts these new forms of public decisions and active citizen-leader contacts via NSMs, consumption issues, focused groups, block clubs, cabletelevision coverage of local associations, and Internet groups. Global competition among cities and weaker nations makes it harder to preserve national welfare-state benefits. This encourages more income inequalities, individualism, and frustrated egalitarianism, which is registered in higher crime rates, divorce, and low trust. As strong national governments withdraw, regional and ethnic violence rises (e.g., in the former Soviet Union or diverse cities like Miami). Voter turnout for elections organized by the classical national parties (which still control local candidate selection in most of the world) thus declined, while new issue-specific community associations mushroomed in the late twentieth century. Urbanism has become global, carried by civic groups, diffused by the Internet, and operating in more subtle ways than past theories proposed.

SEE ALSO Anthropology, Urban; Assimilation; Bourdieu, Pierre; Chicago School; Cities; Class Conflict; Community Power Studies; Dahl, Robert Alan; Elite Theory; Foucault, Michel ; Geography; Hunter, Floyd; Marx, Karl; Metropolis; Pluralism; Social Movements; Street Culture; Tocqueville, Alexis de; Urban Renewal; Urban Riots; Urban Sprawl; Urbanization; Weber, Max


Clark, Terry Nichols, and Vincent Hoffmann-Martinot, eds. 1998. The New Political Culture. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Dahl, Robert A. [1961] 2005. Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. 2nd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hunter, Floyd. 1953. Community Power Structure: A Study of Decision Makers. Durham: University of North Carolina Press.

Terry Nichols Clark

urban sociology

views updated Jun 11 2018

urban sociology Sociological concern with urbanization began with sociology itself, for it was the rapidly growing nineteenth-century industrial cities that first supported those social relationships and structures which inspired the new discipline. Most early sociologists shared the anti-urban bias of much Victorian thought and writing—and a correspondingly romanticized view of rural life. A key concern was the apparent breakdown of community and social control consequent upon urbanization.

Georg Simmel (The Metropolis and Mental Life, 1903) incorporated these concerns in a brilliant, impressionistic discussion of urban life-styles and personality, viewing the social organization and culture which typified urban areas as the consequence of large population aggregates, thus linking causally the physical characteristics of cities with the social characteristics of their inhabitants. Simmel's analysis and ideas, derived from Darwinian ecology, shaped the Chicago School of urban sociology—the dominant paradigm from the 1920s to the 1950s. The most famous summation of this paradigm occurs in an article (‘Urbanism as a Way of Life’, American Journal of Sociology, 1938
) in which Louis Wirth derives ideal-typical social characteristics of urban life (urbanism) from three apparently universal features of cities—large size, high density, and social heterogeneity.

Chicago urban sociology stimulated important empirical research. However, by the 1960s the paradigm had disintegrated and the sub-discipline was a sociological backwater. Empirically, the work of researchers such as Herbert Gans (in the United States) and R. E. Pahl (in Britain) disproves any necessary connection between urban location (hence Wirth's universal features of cities), and particular life-styles. Theoretically, this approach involves a form of naturalism, reifying physical characteristics of cities, falsely identifying these as the causes not the consequences of social processes, and erroneously concluding that social patterns occurring in cities are caused by cities.

This suggests that to derive typical or characteristic patterns of social life from supposedly universal physical or demographic features of cities is to commit not just an empirical but also an epistemological error. Nevertheless, there have been several more recent attempts to provide a new unifying theoretical paradigm for urban sociology, including neo-Weberian theories of housing classes and urban managerialism; so-called non-spatial urban sociology focusing on consumption-sector cleavages; and neo-Marxist perspectives centring on collective consumption.

The last of these defined the new urban sociology of the 1970s. Its most important text was Manuel Castells's The Urban Question (1977). Drawing on the structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser and Nicos Poulantzas, Castells developed an elaborate account of the so-called structures and practices of capitalist urbanization, suggesting that modern (monopoly) capitalism was increasingly dependent on state-supplied urban goods and services (or ‘collective consumption’) to ensure adequate reproduction of its labour-force. This led to rising conflict between the state and urban social movements. The latter, in alliance with workplace struggles, might bring about revolutionary change in capitalist societies as a whole.