Symbolic Interventionist Perspectives: The Experience of City Life
Symbolic interactionists examine the experience of urban life. How docs city life affect the people who live in a city? analysts answer this question positively others arc cynical about the effects of urban living on the individual. Simmel’s View of City Life According to the German sociologist Georg Simmel (195011902-1917), urban life is highly stimulating, and it shapes people’s thoughts and actions. Urban residents are influencedby the quick pace of the city and the pervasiveness of economic relations in everyday life. Due to the intensity of urban life, people have no choice but to become somewhat insensitive to events and individuals around
them. Many urban residents avoid emotional involvement with one another and try to ignore events taking place around them. Urbanites feel wary toward other people because most interactions in the city arc economic rather than social. Simmel suggests that attributes such as punctuality and exactness arc rewarded but that friendliness and warmth in interpersonal relations arc viewed as personal weaknesses. Some people act reserved to cloak their deeper feelings of distrust or dislike toward others. However, Simmel did not view cit life as completely negative; he also pointed out that urban living could have a liberating effect on people because they had opportunities for individualism and autonomy (Flanagan, 2002).
Urbanism as a Way of Life . Based on Simmel’s observations on social relations in the city, the early Chicago School sociologist Louis Wirth (1938) suggested that that urbanism is a “way of life.” Urbanism refers to the distinctive social and psychological patterns of life typically found in the dty. According to Wirth, the size, density, and heterogeneity of urban populations typically result in an elaborate division of Labor and in spatial segregation of people by racc/ethnicity, social – class, religion, and/or lifestyle. In the city, primary group tics are largely replaced by secondary relationships; social interaction is fragmented, impersonal, and often superficial. Even though people gain some degree of freedom and privacy by living in the city, they pay a price tor their autonomy, losing the group support and reassurance that come from primary group ties. From Girth’s perspective, people who live in urban areas are alienated, powerless, and lonely. A sense of community is obliterated and replaced by the “mass society” -a large-scale, highly institutionalized society in which individuality is supplanted by mass messages, faceless bureaucrats, and corporate Lc-rests. Gas’s Urban Villagers In contrast to Girth’s gloomy assessment of urban life, the sociologist Herbert Gans (198211962) suggested that not everyone experiences the city in the same way. Based on ,research in the west end of Boston in the late 19505, Gans concluded that
many residents develop strong loyalties and a sense of community in central-city areas that outsiders may view negatively. According to Gans, there are five .
major categories of adaptation among urban dwellers. Cosmopolitans are students, artists, writers, musicians, entertainers, and professionals who choose to live in the city because they want to be: close to its cultural facilities. Unmarried people ,did childless couples live in the city because they want to be close to work and e entertainment. Ethnic villagers live in ethnically segregated neigneig boyhoods; some are recent immigrants who feci most comfortable within their own group. The deprived are poor individuals with dim future prospects; they have very limited education and few, if any, other resources. The trapped arc urban dwellers who can find no escape: from the city; this group includes persons left behind by the process of invasion and succession, downwardly mobile individuals who ave lost their former position ill society, older persons who have nowhere else to go, and individuals addicted to alcohol or other drugs. Gans concluded that U1C city is a pleasure and a challenge for some urban dwellers and an urban nightmare for others (see Sociology Works!”).