Urban Sociology in the 21st Century
Identifying critical issues confronting an urban sociology of the twenty-first century entails a decision and a judgment, both in turn inevitably derived from an interpretation of history in the making. The enterprise is, thus, partial and positioned. Developing analytical and empirical elements (and I emphasize elements) for an urban sociology focused on the early twenty-first century does not override existing sociological tools nor the rich scholarship on cities. Indeed, the trends this chapter focuses on do not necessarily encompass the prevailing features of the urban condition today. Most of social life in cities probably still corresponds to older continuing and familiar trends. That is why much of urban sociology's traditions and well-established subfields will remain important and continue to constitute the heart of this discipline. At the same time, if one were confined to traditional concepts of urban sociology, one would overlook or underestimate critical aspects of major new trends coming together in a growing number of cities. And while there are good reasons why most of urban sociology has not quite engaged these issues, notably the deficiencies of current data sets to address trends at the level of the city, we need to push forward. Already in the 1980s and 1990s, we have seen important contributions to this forward-looking task in urban sociology (e.g., Friedmann and Wolff 1982; Sassen-Koob 1982; Gottdiener 1985; Rodriguez and Feagin 1986; Castells 1989; King 1990; Zukin 1991; Abu-Lughod 1994; Lash and Urry 1994; Smith 1995, to cite but a few) as well as in other urban disciplines. But current trends also signal the beginning of a whole new research and theorization agenda.1
Large cities around the world are today the terrain where some of the novel conditions marking the twenty-first century hit the ground: Multiple globalization processes assume concrete localized forms, electronic networks intersect with thick environments (whether financial centers or activist meetings), and new subjectivities arise from the encounters of people from all around the world. Thus, today's large cities have emerged as a strategic site for a whole range of new types of operations, some pertaining to the global economy (e.g., Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network [GaWC]; Fainstein and Judd 1999; Scott 2001; Abrahamson 2004; Gugler 2004; Rutherford 2004; Amen, Archer, and Bosman 2006; Harvey, 2007) and others to political, cultural, and subjective domains (e.g., Abu-Lughod 1994; Clark and Hoffman-Martinot 1998; Allen, Massey, and Pryke 1999; Watson and Bridges 1999; Glaeser 2000; Cordero-Guzman, Smith, and Grosfoguel 2001; Krause and Petro 2003; Lloyd 2005; Brenner and Keil 2006; and Barlett 2007).
Some of these trends are urban, but others are not and merely find in the city one of the sites for their enactment. Either way, it suggests that cities are a type of...