The Urban Question

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The Urban Question offered a seemingly powerful analysis of capitalist urbanization. It certainly inspired much new work in urban social theory and research. However, this tended to show that key aspects of Castells's formulation were theoretically and empirically wanting, notably his definition of cities as ‘spaces for collective consumption’, the importance given to urban social movements, and his structural-Marxist conception of the relatively autonomous state. Subsequently, indeed, in The City and the Grassroots (1983), Castells abandoned Marxist theory, and adopted a less dramatic view of the potential effects of urban social movements. In later work (The Informational City, 1989) he argues that the revolution in information technology marks a major new phase in capitalist production and consequential patterns of urban and regional development.

None of these more recent approaches has attained the degree of intellectual dominance formerly exercised by the Chicago School (although the influence of neo-Marxism is still substantial). However, they have resulted in extensive research (frequently of an interdisciplinary nature) on topics as diverse as the political economy of urban and regional development, urban politics, and social movements, and the relationship between space and the social structure (see D. T. Herbert and and D. M. Smith , Social Problems and the City, 1989
). Much of this literature has informed more general sociological concerns, such as social stratification, collective social action, and the distribution of power. While the search for a theoretically delimited urban sociology has failed, urban social research contributes substantially to sociology, and indeed other social sciences. See also BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICTS; COMMUNITY STUDIES; PARK, ROBERT; SUBURBANISM; URBAN ECOLOGY.

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The Urban Question

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