Urban People and Places: The Sociology of Cities, Suburbs, and Towns


Daniel Joseph Monti, Michael Ian Borer & Lyn C. Macgregor

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    To Katrina and Silas. (M.I.B.)

    For Caroline, Jillian and Ted. (L.C.M.)

    For Danny, Erika, Chris, Jeannine, Evelyn, Gabriel and Susan. (D.J.M.)


    It is customary for authors to thank those persons who were instrumental in helping them write their book or assisted them in carrying out the research that went into it. In our case, there are social scientists, historians, reformers, and writers going back at least 200 years upon whose work we relied. There are social philosophers whose writings can be traced back even further in time. But most especially there are the countless millions of men, women, and children from our culture and others who made the stories we tell here and the evidence we assembled here possible to tell and assemble.

    To all of them we owe a debt that cannot be repaid other than by having taken their lives and work seriously.

    Thank you all.

    —Dan Monti—Michael Ian Borer—Lyn Macgregor

    About the Authors

    Michael Ian Borer is associate professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He holds a BA from Lafayette College, an MA in religious studies from Boston University, and a PhD in sociology, also from Boston University. He is the editor of The Varieties of Urban Experience: The American City and the Practice of Culture (University Press of America, 2006) and the author of Faithful to Fenway: Believing in Boston, Baseball, and America's Most Beloved Ballpark (NYU Press, 2008). His work has been published in the Journal of Popular Culture, City & Community, Social Psychology Quarterly, and Symbolic Interaction, among others. He served as the 2011–12 vice president of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. His research focuses on urbanism, popular culture, the “sacred,” and collective memory, and he is currently working on a book about the uses and abuses of imagination and nostalgia in American popular culture and the roles they play in the everyday culture of Las Vegas.

    Lyn C. Macgregor earned her BA at Boston University and doctorate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is the author of Habits of the Heartland: Small Town Life in Modern America (Cornell, 2010). After spending several years on the faculty at the University of Montana, she returned to Madison where she is currently the associate director of the Robert F. and Jean E. Holtz Center for Science & Technology Studies.

    Daniel Joseph Monti is professor of sociology and public policy at Saint Louis University. A graduate of Oberlin College and the University of North Carolina and former Woodrow Wilson fellow, he is the author of over 50 scholarly articles and seven books on subjects ranging from educational reform and inner-city redevelopment to youth gangs and American urban history. His most recent book, Engaging Strangers, deals with civic life in contemporary Boston and the role of business in creating a thriving and orderly culture in that city. He currently is working on a pair of edited books dealing, respectively, with the culture of entrepreneurship and civility in urban life and a book detailing the redevelopment of St. Louis. The latter will constitute the longest study of inner-city redevelopment ever undertaken and focus on the role that major institutions and corporations play in fostering the city's economic and civic revival.

  • Glossary


    A condition of being estranged or disassociated from other people, the products of one's work, and one's “self.”


    A condition characterized by the absence or confusion of social norms or rules in a society, community, or group.


    A process whereby members of ethnic or other minority groups change their practices to conform to the dominant culture.


    Power that has been institutionalized and is recognized, though not necessarily accepted, by the people over whom it is exercised.

    Biographical Strangers

    Individuals who do not know each other on a personal basis or who have never met.


    The owners of the means of production and distribution in capitalist societies.

    Built Environment

    The human constructed physical and material objects that make up the city, such as buildings, streets, and sidewalks.


    A formal organization with rules and hierarchical rankings used to achieve and maximize efficiency.


    An economic system in which the greater proportion of economic life, particularly ownership of and investment in the production of goods, is carried out by private entities through the process of competition, minimizing costs, and maximizing profit.

    Central Business District (CBD)

    The commercial, office, transportation, and cultural center of a city; land values are usually among the highest in the city.

    Chicago School, The

    A collection of scholars from University of Chicago in the early decades of the 20th century whose qualitative and quantitative empirical studies of Chicago and related theoretical contributions helped define urban sociology as a significant subdiscipline.


    Full membership in a community in which one lives, works, or was born.


    A relatively large, dense, and heteroge-neously populated place or settlement.

    Civic Association

    A voluntary organization consisting of individuals with common social and cultural interests and concerns

    Civic Engagement

    The ways people in a democratic society exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities.

    Civil Society

    The realm of voluntary activity that lies between the state and the market, including the family, community, and other nongovernmental associations and extra-economic institutions.


    A large category of people within a system of social stratification who have similar levels of wealth, income, prestige, and life chances.

    Comparative Urbanization

    An approach that replaces limiting notions of cities as being “developed” or “underdeveloped” with one that seeks to identify the commonalities among and across cities of the world.


    Refers to a (positive, though not necessarily so) form of sustained social cohesion, interaction, and organization that exists between the larger society and individuals who have similar characteristics or attributes (e.g., ethnicity, geography, beliefs)

    Creative Class

    A population of individuals with high amounts of “cultural capital” who tend to work in arts and technology fields.


    Acts that violate sanctioned laws and rules for which formal penalties are applied by a recognized authority.

    Cultural Strangers

    Individuals who are from different symbolic worlds or cultures.


    The study of the size, composition, growth, and distribution of human populations.


    Acts that violate the relative standards of conduct, expectations, or beliefs of a group, community, or society.


    The inability to regulate behaviors and activities that are inconsistent with neighborhood or citywide values; ecological factors and structural conditions can lead to variations in crime rates between neighborhoods and cities.

    Division of Labor

    The delegation and assignment of specialized tasks, jobs, or work to be completed by specified individuals, groups, categories, and classes of people.


    Bound to a particular place, like a neighborhood, characterized by the proliferation of commercial establishments and other institutions particularly suited to serving the needs of the resident group.


    The carrying out of new ideas or practices or the combining older ideas and practices with newer ones.


    A shared way of life reflected in language, religion, and material culture such as clothing and food, and cultural products such as music and art; often a key source of both social cohesion and social conflict


    The study of social groups in their natural environment; it relies on participant observation and field research.


    A set of people related by blood, marriage, or adoption who share the primary responsibility for reproduction and caring for members of a community or society.


    The social system that characterized medieval Europe and other preindustrial societies, based upon mutual obligation between nobility and serfs


    A group of individuals that engage in common activities, many of which may violate codified laws and regulations.


    A German term that denotes a sense of close-knit community relations based on shared traditions and values.


    A process of community and neighborhood change where housing in older neighborhoods is restored, often resulting in higher rents and the displacement of previous tenants who can no longer afford to live there.


    A German term that denotes relationships typified by an impersonal bureaucracy and contractual arrangements rather than informal ones based on kinship and family ties.


    The often uneven development of extensive worldwide patterns of economic, political, and cultural relationships between nations.

    Human Ecology

    The study of the interrelationships between people and their spatial setting and physical environment.


    People who settle in a country in which they were not born.


    A process that leads to an significantly increased proportion of a population engaged in specialized factory work and nonagricultural occupations; it increases the number of people living near factories and relying on mechanically produced goods and services.


    The difference in access to and accumulation of wealth, educational opportunities, and cultural activities.


    The network of social relationships that link individuals through common ancestry, marriage, or adoption.

    Mechanical Solidarity

    Social cohesion generated by a minimal division of labor where there is little differentiation in the kinds of labor that individuals engage in.


    A continuous stretch of urban settlement that results from cities, suburbs, and towns merging together.


    People who move from one country or region to another, often due to the availability of work.


    Collections of people who live close to one another with relatively sustained social contact and interaction.

    New Urbanism

    An approach to designing cities, towns, and neighborhoods aimed at reducing traffic and sprawl and increasing social interactions.

    Norms of Reciprocity and Mutual Trust

    Members of a community share the expectation that when an individual does a favor for someone else, the good they do will be returned at some point in the future.

    Organic Solidarity

    Social cohesion generated by increased specialization where people necessarily rely on the contributions of others to survive and succeed.


    An ecological condition in which a society is unable to support all its members with available technology and natural resources.

    Physical Determinism

    A belief that people's lives will improve if they are given a better place to live and work in.


    A unique location that takes material form and is endowed with meaning and value.


    An approach to studying social life that rejects modernist beliefs in scientific knowledge, progress, and “grand theories”; relies on notions of fragmentation and disorganization.

    Public Policy

    Governmental engagement and intervention in response to a perceived social problem.

    Public –Private Partnerships

    Initiatives by city leaders to connect with private investors to undertake projects serve a larger public good.


    Workers who sell their labor to those who own the means of production.


    Designation of population based on skin color or other physical features; it is often a key source of both social cohesion and social conflict.


    t The rebuilding of parts of a city; sometimes large areas are completely demolished before being rebuilt, sometimes older buildings are preserved or updated.


    The practice of physically separating the occupants of some social statuses from the occupants of others.


    A heavily populated urban area characterized by substandard housing and squalor.

    Social Capital

    The value of social networks and organizations to get things done together that comes from peoples’ relationships with one another.

    Social Conflict

    The struggle over values and meanings or property, income, and power, or both.

    Social Order

    The conformity of individuals to explicit and implicit social rules of behavior.

    Social Reform

    Attempts to change the working and living conditions of citizens and residents.


    A nonphysical or material area that exists between places.


    A social characteristic that locates individuals in relation to other people.


    Settlements located outside the physical and political boundaries of a city that are adjacent to the city or to its other suburbs.


    A set of interrelated propositions or ideas intended to explain a phenomenon.

    Third Places

    Locations that serve a social need beyond work and home life (e.g., a local coffee shop).


    The long-term poor who lack the necessary training and skills to become upwardly mobile.

    Urban Culturalist Perspective

    An approach to studying cities by uncovering the meanings and values people endow them with in order to understand the ways that people make sense of the city, themselves, and others.

    Urban Political Economy

    An approach to studying cities by investigating the ways that power relations influence the distribution of scarce resources.

    Urban Sprawl

    The unplanned and unregulated growth of urban areas into surrounding areas.


    The ways of life or cultures of people in cities; the myths, symbols, and rituals of urbanites.


    The movement of populations from rural to urban areas; the growth and development, and redevelopment, of cities.


    Legal regulations and restrictions that stipulate land use and architectural design of residential, commercial, and industrial developments.


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