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Urban sociology answers questions of urbanization

Author  :  PAN YUEFEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-05-28

As the migration from the country to cities increases, people, logistics and information flows mainly spread through networks of nodes formed by cities.

Urban sociology is a discipline that focuses on the location, social issues, structure, organization, lifestyle, psychology, and development of cities. Urban life possesses more diversity than any other way of life, and it also breeds theoretical richness.

Shi Qiqing, an associate research fellow from the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said traditional urban sociology overlaps with multiple disciplines. There are different approaches to urban studies, including the perspectives of human ecology, history, globalization. Urban studies attempts to explore the nature of cities, the intrinsic dynamics of urban development, and how the city operates. 

Liu Neng, a professor of sociology from Peking University, said the population that has been the target of administrative practices of urban governments becomes increasingly diverse, the academic status of urban sociology in all branches of sociology has become a more prominent field of study. Urban sociology provides a sufficient theoretical framework for us to understand the fates of various social actors, the interaction between social actors and space, and the evolution and transformation of urban landscapes over a long period of time.

Cai He, a professor of sociology and anthropology from Sun Yat-sen University, said that urbanization is not only a process of gathering resources, such as population, capital, knowledge and technology into cities, but also the reshaping of social structures, changes in social relations and behaviors, evolution of social issues and conflicts, and the pursuit of equality and justice. Urban sociology aims to study the aforementioned issues as its own responsibility and reveal the law of urban social development. 

Rich theoretical resources, research perspectives, and urban development practices have spawned many issues of concern in the field of urban sociology. Liu said that from the perspective of space, the core research areas of urban sociology include: case studies on the macroscopic shaping mechanism of urban spatial landscapes; deepened recognition, community building and mobilization potential of urban subcultures; technology, monitoring, the integration of urban big data systems, and the outlook of smart cities; the planning of spatial functions of built-up areas and the promotion of human behavior; spatial characteristics, environmental justice and social inequality; interaction and exchange among global urban systems; urban boundary management and spatial shape transformation.

Cai said at this stage, urban sociology should focus on the following issues. First, it should respond to the strategic goals of urbanization development put forward by the 19th CPC National Congress report. On the basis of analyzing the changes in urban patterns and population, research should focus on people’s fairness and equality in market opportunities, supply of public goods, social development space and citizen’s rights, and explore ways to narrow social gaps. 

Second, against the trend featuring increasing heterogeneity in the ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic aspects of the urban population, it is appropriate to study the causes and trends of social mobility, to recognize the agglomeration, diffusion and interaction of different social groups in cities, and to explore the promotion of social integration.

The third is to study the socioeconomic impact of urban expansion and transformation of old cities on different groups of people, and to study the influence of spatial reconstruction on communities, historical culture and collective memory, thus providing a humanistic and social consideration for urban planning. The fourth is to study the growth of new social strata and middle-income groups to better understand their composition, values and behavioral patterns and analyze their roles and functions in the process of social change. 

The fifth is to study the structure of people’s interests, collective mobilization mechanisms, and group action patterns in an urban environment where the mass media is well developed and the internet is highly popular. This provides a scientific basis for the settlement of social conflicts and the maintenance of social stability in legal construction and policy formulation.

Shi said that promoting the further development of urban sociological studies requires us to return to the historical and present conditions of China, and focus on the uniqueness of China’s urbanization and the drivers behind it. 

Liu said it is necessary to shift from a research oriented toward a certain type of social actor to a space-based study. In the early traditions of sociology, one of the main themes of the urban or human ecology of the Chicago School was to explain the spatial distribution of social phenomena or social outcomes. The theory of the Chicago School uses geographical features to explain social results. At present, we can learn from this tradition and reverse the personalization trend of urban studies in contemporary China. The core perspective of new urban sociology and critical geography is also a perspective of space production and reproduction.

Cai said that we must combine academic and countermeasure research, so that urban sociology helps respond to major national issues; we must transform academic concepts into understandable language, so that urban sociology can be more widely recognized by the society. We should also emphasize the interdisciplinary cooperation between urban sociology and other disciplines, so as to discover new problems and promote academic innovation. 

 

(Edited and translated by SUI JINGJING) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor: Yu Hui

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