11.469 | Spring 2009 | Graduate

Urban Sociology in Theory and Practice


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2.5 hours / session

Course Description

This course is intended to introduce graduate students to a set of core writings in the field of urban sociology. Topics include the changing nature of community, social inequality, political power, socio-spatial change, technological change, and the relationship between the built environment and human behavior. We examine the key theoretical paradigms that have constituted the field since its founding, assess how and why they have changed over time, and discuss the implications of these paradigmatic shifts for urban scholarship, social policy and the planning practice. Our aim is two-fold: 1) to educate students about the nature and changing character of the city and the urban experience - including the larger social, political, and economic dynamics of urban change - so as to provide a more nuanced appreciation of the contemporary, comparative, and historical context in which urban planning skills and sensibilities have been developed and could be applied, and 2) to offer a “sociology of knowledge” approach to the field of urban sociology, so as to prepare more advanced students for pursuing an urban sociology concentration in preparation for doctoral exams.

Course Structure

The seminar will involve intensive discussions of assigned readings. Students will be encouraged to discuss how the theoretical and practical concerns that have preoccupied urban sociologists can be applied to their individual research interests (at both the MA and PhD level).

Each week’s readings are divided into three parts: required readings, additional core readings, and additional suggested readings. All students should read the required readings for each week. PhD students studying for their general exam in Urban Sociology should also read the additional core readings.


Final grades will be assigned based on the assignments and in-class activities listed below. Students are urged to pay close attention to due dates; late assignments will result in a significant grade penalty. More information can be found in the Assignments section.

6 short reaction papers 30%
Additional core readings summary 20%
Class participation 10%
Final research proposal or paper 40%


1 Introduction
2 Classical foundations
3 The ecological view I: the Chicago School
4 The ecological view II: the social, spatial, natural, and built environment
5 The urban ethnographic tradition
6 Urban political economy I: cities, industrialization, and socio-spatial change
7 Urban political economy II: capitalism and urban dynamics
8 Urban political economy III: elites, political power, and urban dynamics
9 The truly disadvantaged: class, race, ethnicity, and culture
10 Social networks, new technologies, and the city
11 Globalization and cities
12 From cities in global context to the post-modern (and pre-modern?) city


Required Texts

Fainstein, Susan, and Scott Campbell. Readings in Urban Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2002. ISBN: 9780631223450.

Legates, Richard, and Frederick Stout. The City Reader. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. ISBN: 9780415770842.

Merrifield, Andy. Metromarxism: A Marxist Tale of the City. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002. ISBN: 9780415933490.

DeFilippis, James. Unmaking Goliath: Community Control in the Face of Global Capital. New York, NY: Routledge, 2003, pp. 17-60. ISBN: 9780415945257.

King, Anthony D. Global Cities: Post-imperialism and the Internationalization of London. New York, NY: Routledge, 1991. ISBN: 9780415062411.

Gans, Herbert J. Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1982. ISBN: 9780029112403.

Gans, Herbert. The Levittowners. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1982. ISBN: 9780231055710.

Levitt, Peggy. The Transnational Villagers. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN: 9780520228139.

Mollenkopf, John Hull. The Contested City. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983. ISBN: 9780691022208.

Burgess, Ernest W., and Robert E. Park. The City. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 1984. ISBN: 9780226646114.

Sassen, Saskia. The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. ISBN: 9780691070636.

Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780691121864.

Castells, Manuel. The Castells Reader on Cities and Social Theory. Edited by Ida Susser. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2002. ISBN: 9780631219330.

Wellman, Barry. Networks in the Global Village: Life in Contemporary Communities. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780813368214.

Whyte, William Foote. Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 1993. ISBN: 9780226895451.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Written Assignments