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Theoretical Collision in Urban Sociology:
Chicago Legacy and L.A. School

August 31, 2008 Rough Copy

Nikita A. Kharlamov


Center for Fundamental Sociology

Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities

State University - Higher School of Economics

12 Petrovka Street, office 182

Moscow, Russia, 107031

+7 926 532 8842




Contents 02

Project History and Acknowledgements 03

Abstract 04

Introduction: Locating the Theoretical Collision 05

Chapter 1. Paradigmatic Cities in Urban Theory 07

1.1. Landscape of Contemporary Urban Theory 07

1.1.1. On the Meaning of ‘Theory’ 07

1.1.2. Neo-Marxist Theorizing and Political Economies
of Urbanized Regions 07

1.1.3. Theorizing the Urban Everyday Life 08

1.2. Chicago, IL: The City and Its School 09

1.2.1. The City of Chicago 09

1.2.2. The Department and the School 10

1.2.3. Theory and Research of the Chicago School 10

1.2.4. The Legacy of the School 11

1.3. Los Angeles, CA: Excavating the Future of Urban Theory

in Southern California 12

1.3.1. The City of Future? 12

1.3.2. The L.A. School of Urban Studies 12

1.3.3. The Ideas of the L.A. School 14

Chapter 2. Los Angeles School Dissected 15

2.1. Why Talk of Schools? On the Notion of Scientific School

and its Relevance to the Study of Urban Theory 15

2.1.1. Tiryakian’s Treatment of the Concept of School 15

2.1.2. Usage of the Concept in Codification of Urban Theory 16

2.2. Claiming the Legacy: Image of Chicago School in L.A. School Writings 16

2.2.1. Using Legacies, Constructing Images 17

2.2.2. Los Angeles School of Urbanism vs. Chicago School of Sociology 17

2.2.3. L.A. School: Project as Described by the Proponents 18

2.2.4. The Strange Fate of Human Ecology and Other Chicago Ideas 18

2.2.5. The Angeleno Image of the Chicago School 19

2.2.6. Why Reduce? 20

Chapter 3. More Breaks than Continuities: Changing Concepts
and Conflicting Models in the Evolution of Urban Theory 21

3.1. Theoretical Foundations: From Human Ecology

to Postmodern Fragmentation 21

3.1.1. Postmodernist Fragmentation: Reflecting the Field 21

3.1.2. Postmodernizing Urbanism 22

3.2. Basic Model: From Single-Centered City to Polycentric Region 23

3.2.1. Modeling Urban Process 23

3.2.2. Regional Models of Urban Space 23

3.2.3. No More Urban vs. Rural 24

3.3. Vision of Process: From Natural Competition to Power Struggles 24

3.3.1. Biotic Competition as a Natural Process 24

3.3.2. Struggles for Power 25

3.4. Theoretical Collision and Methodological Unity 25

3.4.1. Los Angeles as a ‘Paradigmatic City’ 25

3.4.2. ‘Park’s Principle’ 26

Conclusion: From Chicago to Los Angeles and Beyond 26

References 27
Project History and Acknowledgements

The research reported in this paper was commenced in Winter 2007 during the preparation of a term paper on sociology of science (Professor: Andrey A. Kozhanov, Reader in Sociology, Department of Analysis of Social Institutions, Faculty of Sociology, State University – Higher School of Economics). Since then it has become a full-scale research project. The preliminary results were reported at the State University – Higher School of Economics Faculty of Sociology Day of Science conference (March 19, 2007). The first version of this paper was presented at The Legacy of the Chicago School conference at the University of Manchester (September 13-14, 2007) and at the Communities-2 Seminar at State University – Higher School of Economics Sociology Faculty (November 23, 2007). Revised and updated version was discussed at the State University – Higher School of Economics Center for Fundamental Sociology Workshop (May 28, 2008).

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to my supervisor Svetlana P. Bankovskaya for her support throughout the project. I wish to thank all those who have contributed in some way to this project, including the participants and conveners of the aforementioned and other events and conferences, and to all those with whom I shared my thoughts over the last years. I am particularly grateful to Nail Farkhatdinov, Alexander Filippov, Herbert Gans, Galina Ivanchenko, Daria Khlevnyuk, Natalia Komarova, Andrey Kozhanov, Vassily Kuzminov, Vladimir Nikolaev, Nikita Pokrovsky, Vadim Radaev, Roger Salerno, Mario Small, Pavel Stepantsov, Javier Treviño, Victor Vakhstayn, Jaan Valsiner, my friends and colleagues at the Center for Fundamental Sociology, Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities, Faculty of Sociology at the State University – Higher School of Economics, Faculty of Sociology and Political Science at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, and many other places. I would also like to thank all members of ASA CUSS – ISA RC21 E-Mail List-Serve for continuous flow of news, thoughts, ideas and references on state-of-the-art urban research. I thank Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences Library staff and State University – Higher School of Economics Library staff for their helpfulness and for their lasting patience in renewing my ruthless book loans week after week. I am particularly grateful to Vladimir Pislyakov of Higher School of Economics Library for his help in using HSE electronic subscriptions. Members of Livejournal PDF community helped me to locate a number of important sources. I am grateful to the Librarians of Clark University and Lancaster University for their kind permissions to use their libraries during April 2007 and July 2008 respectively. Finally I wish to apologize to my dear friends whom I was at times unable to spend time with because of the project. The responsibility for the text, the views expressed, and for all mistakes, exaggerations and misinterpretations, is mine in its entirety.

The project would have been impossible to accomplish without the financial support of State University – Higher School of Economics Scholarships (2003-2008), Oxford Russia Fund Scholarship (2005-2007), Oxford Russia Fund Adam Smith Scholarship (2007-2008), and travel grants and funds awarded by the Higher School of Economics Center for Fundamental Sociology, Higher School of Economics Scientific Fund, and Higher School of Economics Innovational Educational Program.



The key point of reference for the field of urban studies is the classical Chicago School of Sociology. The paper evaluates the development of urban theory since the Chicago School using the so-called Los Angeles School of Urbanism as a second point of reference and presents an attempt to chart the current status of the field. It is argued that urban theory has gone through a radical theoretical change. This change is evaluated on the basis of comparison of Los Angeles School and Chicago School along three crucial dichotomies-transitions: from human ecology to postmodern theoretical fragmentation, from concentric ring model of urban structure to regional approaches and the vision of sprawl, and from the understanding of urban process as natural to the understanding of it as driven by power and interest groups conflicts. An account of the contemporary theoretical landscape and descriptions of the two Schools are provided in order to frame the comparison. An excursus into the way Los Angeles School uses the legacy of the Chicago School and into the ensuing reductionist image of Chicago School serves as a starting point for the discussion of theoretical (r)evolution. The key reported finding is the paradoxical coexistence of a theoretical collision and a methodological affinity embodied by the Los Angeles School that powerfully reinstitutes the methodological principle of ‘paradigmatic city’ originating in the works of Robert Park and his collaborators. The paper concludes with a discussion of this principle.

Introduction: Locating the Theoretical Collision

A mere thirty years ago some of the more creative futurologists predicted the total disappearance of cities as forms of human settlement. These visions have been disproven, for now. While a number of Western industrial cities had undeniably entered a prolonged post-Fordist crisis, not only have they not melted into air, but new cities have since 1970-s emerged or refitted themselves as post-industrial metropolitan command and control centers of the global economic system. Many non-Western urban areas have come forward as the new manufacturing centers. Today swarming megalopolises in Asia, Africa and Latin America defy customary imaginations. The world’s tallest skyscrapers no longer belong to New York but to Kuala Lumpur, Taipei and Dubai. And the world’s worst slums are found in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Phnom Penh and Mumbai. The classics of sociology would probably have not recognized these cities were they able to see them today. “Can one really call Mexico City a ‘city’ when it includes perhaps twenty-five million people and is more populous than the continent of Australia?” (Ingersoll 2006: 3).

As a discipline urban sociology began with the legendary Chicago School of Sociology. The Chicago School embarked on creating the agenda for American social science at the time when European societies and sociologies were ravaged by tumultuous events surrounding the two World Wars. A body of theory and a vast corpus of empirical research made Chicago perhaps the best studied city in history. The School left a legacy of scholarship that continues to inspire urban researchers to these days. It provides an example of a ‘paradigmatic’ approach in theory and research that is a rare commodity these days. This example is written into sociologists’ minds since their junior university years and often the since first course in sociology.

Current urban theory is diverse and fragmented. If anything, it is bustling. In a world where more than fifty percent of population inhabit the great human invention that together with agriculture made civilization, it is only natural for the city to once again become, in Robert Park’s words first articulated in 1915, “a laboratory or clinic in which human nature and social processes may be conveniently and profitably studied” (Park 1925: 46). Pressing social, economic and environmental problems provide rich material and steady demand for urban knowledge and yet these concerns are addressed in a daunting variety of ways.

In the last two decades the Chicago legacy has attracted attention beyond introductory textbooks and history of social science. The position of ‘The School’ of urban research is a worthy status. Since 1980-s it has been challenged by a vibrant group of young scholars, the self-proclaimed ‘Los Angeles School (of Urbanism)’, that is claiming itself as successor to the classical Chicago School. Dwelling on the idea of radical restructuring of urban realm and adhering to openly postmodernist orientation, it has drawn particular attention to the urban region of Los Angeles and Southern California. Angeleno scholars led by Michael J. Dear refer to the Chicago School as a source of ideas and concepts, and as a body of knowledge that they seek to transcend. In the process, they conjure up a particular image of the Chicago legacy in which much work done by Robert Park and his collaborators is ostensively absent. L.A. School has spurred a range of heated debates and received its share of rude comments from fellow urbanists. Nevertheless it has succeeded in establishing Los Angeles as one of the top iconic urban places for urban science.

The story of Los Angeles School and its quest for ‘scientific school’ status is in itself an interesting case for sociology of science. But it also facilitates asking a range of general questions about urban theory and its evolution. The image of Chicago School found in Los Angeles School writings is strange enough to puzzle everyone familiar with the extent of Chicagoan writings. Reducing the entire legacy of the School to one statement on urban structure and development and to one diagram drawn by Ernest Burgess in 1925 might not grant proper respect to architects of modern sociology. Nevertheless it perhaps more than anything else underscores the extent of change and break with the past in urban theory. And yet… there also exists an important similarity between the schools which again brings to the forefront crucial problems and challenges that urban theorists face.

Focusing on the strange fate of Chicago School legacy in L.A. School writings, the present paper aims to expose the radical theoretical collision between the classical heritage and contemporary ideas in urban theory and thus explicate the path trod by the field on its way to current postmodern fragmentation and necessity to deal with fluid and elusive world. The case of L.A. School indicates an important and paradoxical affinity between the two bodies of knowledge: behind the visible theoretical break and collision L.A. writings powerfully reinstate the methodological principle of ‘paradigmatic city’. This principle of researching the current state of urban world in an emblematic city was founded in Chicago. Los Angeles is argued by Angeleno scholars to be such a city for the twenty-first century. This principle is evident in much urban research elsewhere.

The aims and findings of the paper may be summarized in the following way.

  • The first aim is to examine the way the link with the Chicago School is constructed by Los Angeles scholars and to scrutinize the image of the Chicago legacy conjured up in L.A. School’s ‘Scientific School’ project. The key finding is that L.A. School offers a tailor-made reductionist image of Chicago School and its ideas. The image serves as the key element in L.A. School’s own pursuit of ‘Scientific School’ status. It is further suggested that because of the break between the bodies of knowledge, the Chicago School cannot serve as a viable theoretical resource for L.A. School.

  • The second aim is to examine more generally the theoretical evolution that the L.A. School embodies in its intended ‘replacement’ of Chicago ideas. It is argued that theories and models offered by L.A. School represent a distinct theoretical (r)evolution from those found in the Chicago School corpus. This theoretical change, however, hides the rebirth of the crucial Chicagoan methodological principle of singling out a particular city and making it into the icon of urban reality.

These findings are presented through an investigation of the corpora of Chicago School and L.A. School writings and of the existing critical literature. This work, which is properly done within the logic of history of science, necessitates invoking the logic of sociology of science to the extent that the field in question is itself so thoroughly structured by the phenomenon of the Chicago School and its successive Los Angeles School. While the primary task is the comparative juxtaposition of classical and contemporary ideas1 in urban theory, a commentary on the phenomenon of ‘Scientific School’ was deemed relevant to properly frame the discussion of theoretical evolution from one school to another.

The structure of the paper reflects the logic of its goals. Chapter 1 sets the background for the discussion by offering an account of the landscape of contemporary urban studies and of the place of the two schools of urban theory. Chapter2 offers an excursus on the notion of ‘scientific school’ and on the way this notion was invoked by the Los Angeles School against the legacy of the Chicago School. The reductionist image of the Chicago School presented in Los Angeles writings is discussed. Chapter 3 juxtaposes classical (Chicago School) and contemporary (Los Angeles School and contemporaries) urban theoretical ideas along a number of oppositions. The chapter concludes by exposing a paradox of theoretical collision between the opposing ideas coexisting with methodological unity of ‘paradigmatic city’ principle. Conclusion reflects on the methodological and epistemological consequences of this paradox.

Two caveats are necessary at the outset. Firstly, I will not attempt to reconstruct either the Chicago legacy or the Los Angeles School research in their entireties. This is a nearly impossible task and I have no illusion that I will reach the rigor and meticulousness of magisterial studies such as those of Martin Bulmer (1984) and Andrew Abbott (1999). I will try to achieve a more modest objective: that of trying to highlight a number of crucial problems by using Schools as reference points to structure the field. I will necessarily leave out much interesting developments in urban theory; however, this is a necessary sacrifice one has to make in dealing with fluid and ever developing body of knowledge. Secondly, at no point throughout the text will I be concerned with giving an account of the actual urban condition. My work is strictly limited to questions of codification of theoretical knowledge. Hence I am neither doing a critique of urban understandings nor proposing a theory of my own, but only making a comparison of theories.

Chapter 1. Paradigmatic Cities in Urban Theory

The birth of distinctively urban theory and research is associated with the Chicago School of Sociology. Although the classics of sociology now and then addressed the phenomenon of cities, it was relatively marginal to most of their writing. It was the Chicago School that has truly made sociology into a research oriented academic and scientific discipline. Simultaneously it gave birth to the field of urban studies as more than a number of standalone writers and thinkers. Since the 1980-s the field saw the development of the so-called Los Angeles School which spurred a range of debates and even attempts to counter it with other place-based ‘schools’. But these two schools serve as crucial reference points for urban theory. An overview of the current situation in the field and a recap of the two Schools in question are offered in the present chapter.

1.1. Landscape of Contemporary Urban Theory

1.1.1. On the Meaning of ‘Theory’

Urban theory may be roughly described as a field attempting to derive the general parameters and patterns of development of cities. As a subset of the field of urban studies – a multidisciplinary scientific enterprise devoted to the study of cities and urban life – it is concerned with the development of general presuppositions, fundamental models and core concepts that guide research2. The task of theory is to provide tools for research, generalization, and specification3.

The key problem for contemporary urban theory is accounting for the array of ongoing changes that during the last thirty years have considerably transformed the world urban landscape. This is a shared challenge with general social theory and urban theory thereby attempts to see the particularly urban manifestation of the alteration.

1.1.2. Neo-Marxist Theorizing and Political Economies of Urbanized Regions

Just as social science paid thorough attention to the technological and consequent economic changes, coming up with the notions of post-Fordism and post-Industrialism, urban theory since 1970-s invoked Marxist theorizing to come up with a variety of political economies of cities and urbanization. This strand of urban research can be called mainstream4, as indicated by, for example, skimming through recent books attempting to present an overview of urban theory (e.g. Gottdiener and Hutchison 2006, Short 2006, Soja 2000): all these books start their discussion of contemporary theory with political economies of urbanism and urban globalization.

The key topic addressed by political economies of urbanism is the effects of technological advances, transformations in industrial production, and the consequent shift towards service and information economy, on the functions of cities, on their structure, and on urban life. Among the key ideas was the observation that the primary urban function is no longer that of accumulating concentrated industries and working class, but services, coordination, management, control and governance. Therefore crucial urban dynamics are the dynamics of real estate and business services. Particular attention was paid to the new urban poverty in deindustrializing cities of the West and to the fate of urban ‘underclass’ (see Gans 1995, Wacquant 2008, Wilson 1996 for a summary of decades of debate and research; see Small 2007 for a critique)5. Since the beginning of 1990-s the notion of globalization provided a powerful impetus for the development of urban thought as cities are increasingly seen as a worldwide interconnected system, or network (see Sassen 2007 for a number of illuminating papers on the problem).

Exemplifying this strand of theory are the theories of Saskia Sassen and Manuel Castells. Sassen’s notion of global city (Sassen 2001) captured the role of central cities – for Sassen they are London, New York and Tokyo – as the key nodes of command and control of worldwide economy. A variety of other cities – such as Miami (Sassen and Portes 1993, Nijman 2000) – are discussed as global cities. Manuel Castells (2000) put cities in the context of his general theory of network society and informational capitalism by drawing attention to networked urban agglomerations such as one in Chinese Pearl River Delta containing Hong Kong. Castells suggested that these manufacturing-cum-management urban agglomerations in what used to be called ‘Third World’ are the face of urbanization in the third Millennium. They form the essential examples of the informational city characterized by dense informational and communicative networks. Mega-cities are “nodes of the global economy, concentrating the directional, productive, and managerial functions all over the planet: the control of the media; the real politics of power; and the symbolic capacity to create and diffuse messages” (Castells 2000: 434). Their essence is “being globally connected and locally disconnected, physically and socially” (Ibid.: 436). Castells and Sassen share the interest in spatial aspects of globalized cities in that they underscore the consequences of being global for the structure of urban space.

The key contemporary insight relating to the study of urban spatial and territorial structure is the imagination of urbanized region. The key proponents of regional approach, Mark Gottdiener and Ray Hutchison describe the new urban condition in the following way. “Today the city has exploded… we now call home the expanding regions of urbanization that are associated with a mix of cities, towns, suburbs, and exurban areas. This new form of settlement space is called the multicentered metropolitan region (MCMR), and it is the first really new way people have organized their living and working arrangements in 10,000 years” (Gottdiener and Hutchison 2006: 5). They attribute two primary characteristics to this new form. “It extends over a large region, and it contains many separate centers, each with its own abilities to draw workers, shoppers, and residents” (Ibid.: 5). These arguments emphasize that the urbanized region is an agglomeration of permanent settlements that are part of a region-wide network of consumption, communication and mobility that can be seen even in the basic statistics of regional mobility and connectivity patterns (Parr 2007). In a way, regional approach perhaps best underscores the general acknowledgement of the widely defined process of globalization.

1.1.3. Theorizing the Urban Everyday Life

A different plane of urban theory looks at everyday life in the city. Perhaps the most significant development in this vein after Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin and Louis Wirth was the Marxist critique of urban everyday life offered by French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre (1987, 2000 [1971]) whose work always had a distinctly urban trait. Everyday life in urban setting is also narrated in postmodernist writings (e.g. Baudrillard 2000 [1986], Chambers 1991) and cultural studies that are concerned with interpretive reading of the urban as texts (see for example Highmore 2005). However, sociology of everyday life (represented by writers such as Alfred Schuetz (e.g. 1945), Harold Garfinkel (1967), Erving Goffman (1986 [1974], 1990 [1959])) as such has seldom explicitly concerned itself with urban environment. Generally urban everyday life remains undertheorized6.

The so-called material turn in social theory and the emergence of actor-network theory (see Latour 2005 for a recent authoritative introduction and summary) focus on including material objects into sociological sphere, and human geography-influenced sociological studies of space and spatiality (often called ‘spatial turn’ and tightly intertwined with ANT, e.g. Law 2002, Mol and Law 1994, Soja 2000, Thrift 1996; see Law 2004 for a recent synthesis of ANT-influenced social topology) open a pathway for a possible sociological treatment of everyday life in urban setting. Yet it still remains a work for future (see Amin and Thrift 2002 for a recent attempt at conceptualization7).

To sum up, the current landscape of urban theory is dominated by a variety of Marxist and neo-Marxist conceptions that often differ from each other beyond recognition and yet share the general concern with the effects of societal change on urban environment. If anything, the common idea is that the current urban world is at least considerably different from the one existent as late as 1950-s. This idea is brought to the forefront by the Los Angeles School of Urbanism. While the classical Chicago School stands as a common point of critical reference. Therefore a comparison between the two bodies of knowledge allows for a better understanding of the current theoretical context.

1.2. Chicago, IL: The City and Its School8

The importance of Chicago for the development of urban sociology stems from a remarkable constellation of a variety of factors. The prime among these are the exceptional position of the city in America and the existence of a research university and a vigorous sociology department. Coupled with the iconic personality of Robert Ezra Park, the mix was potent enough to set the academic landscape for years to come.

1.2.1. The City of Chicago

Historically the city of Chicago stood on the verge of two American worlds – the industrialized West and the agricultural East. In less than sixty years it grew from a 10 000 township (1837) to a city with more than a million inhabitants in the year of the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Chicago was a hub for money flows and migration mobilities (Hunter 1997). Its location in space at the time of rapid industrialization and expansion made Chicago into a booster landscape of multiple immigrant communities that accepted immigrants from all over Europe. The land of urban revolution and cultural fusion, Chicago of the beginning of XX century was at the forefront of urban change. Roger Salerno aptly compares the Chicago School to noir literature and cinema, writing that the Chicagoan “[s]ociology noir emerged from a host of social forces associated with urbanization and modernization. It was a response to those same conditions that worked to produce tabloid journalism and cheap fiction” (2007: 20).

1.2.2. The Department and the School

The University of Chicago was founded in 1891 and launched its activities in 1892 as a research-oriented institution. Department of Sociology was founded in 1892 and became the very first full-scale department of sociology in the USA and in the world. ‘The Chicago School’ is a label attached to the community of sociologists working in Chicago Department in 1910s-1930s9. Commonly the School is associated with the leading role of Robert Ezra Park who arrived at the department in 1914 after a long career in journalism and social policy. The ‘Golden Age’ of the Chicago School is usually located in Park’s years at the department (1915-1935), although a number of important scholars, such as Jane Addams and William I. Thomas, worked there before Park. After Park’s retirement the first School was largely over but the subsequent generations of Chicago scholars such as those advocating symbolic interactionism continued the fame of the Department.

The most prominent figures of the first School include Ernest W. Burgess, Roderick D. McKenzie and Louis Wirth. They, their students and their colleagues produced the body of research now referred to as the School. The agenda for Chicagoan urban sociology was outlined in The City (Park et al. 1925), a collection of essays authored by Park, Burgess and McKenzie and supplemented with a bibliography of community research complied by Wirth. The corpus of empirical research was primarily presented in the form of monographs published by the University of Chicago Press in Sociological Series10. The Hobo (Nels Anderson, 1922), Family Disorganization (Ernest R. Mowrer, 1927), The Gang (Frederick M. Thrasher, 1927), Suicide (Ruth Shonle Cavan, 1928), The Ghetto (Louis Wirth, 1928), The Gold Coast and the Slum (Harvey W. Zorbaugh, 1929), The Negro Family in Chicago (E. Franklin Frazier, 1931), The Taxi-Dance Hall (Paul G. Cressey, 1932), Vice in Chicago (Walter M. Reckless, 1933) form the core of studies regarded as belonging to the Chicago School. Many of the authors were doctoral students of Park and Burgess. Some of the studies were supported by the Chicago City Council, the Chicago Vice Commission, and other public bodies.

1.2.3. Theory and Research of the Chicago School

Theoretical base of Chicago research is complex. While Robert Park is generally acknowledged as the intellectual leader of the School, Burgess, McKenzie and Wirth also played a significant role. The Chicago scholars were influenced by William Isaac Thomas and the Chicago pragmatist philosophy of William James, Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey11. In terms of ideas, several distinct conceptual and methodological schemes could be discerned.

Attributed primarily to Robert Park, the Chicago School advocated an ecological approach to the study of human life. Human ecology was a theoretical scheme built on the basis of plant ecology by Park (1936) and McKenzie (1925). They saw social life as a natural process similar to that in biotic life. Human community was seen as a natural habitat: “(1) a population, territorially organized, (2) more or less completely rooted in the soil it occupies, (3) its individual units living in a relationship of mutual interdependence that is symbiotic rather than societal” (Park 1936: 4). Park argued that the society had a biotic, ecological basis, and that culture and morals were the levels above in a hierarchy of control. Hence the natural process of competition and competitive cooperation was conceived as primary to human communal living although superseded and subverted by secondary social processes of economic, political and moral control. Territorial dynamics of human populations were thought of as a result of biotic competition for space and resources. The community thus occupied a natural area. The modern city – in their case, Chicago – was inhabited by multiple constantly competing populations and thus constituted a perfect biological-cum-sociological laboratory for the study of natural ecological process. Constant immigration was regarded as the fundamental drive behind urban growth.

Ernest Burgess (1925) created the famous spatial model of urban growth on the basis of ecological understanding of developmental dynamics. He described the expansion of the city (originating from the influx of immigrants) as dynamics of zones that were successively arranged in concentric circles stemming from the Central Business District (CBD). The principal dynamic behind the urban settlement was the center-periphery growth. This model is one of the (if short of ‘the’) best known and most influential models in the history of urban sociology, despite being heavily criticized and eventually disproven even for Chicago itself12.

Essentially urban (human) ecology and zoning models dealt with the way territorial patterns are shaped by human population dynamics. As Mark Gottdiener and Ray Hutchison suggest, there was another dimension to Chicago ideas. Robert Park and his colleagues “came to view spatial patterns in the city as the result of powerful social factors… [Louis Wirth] emphasized the way the city, as a spatial environment, influenced individual behavior” (Gottdiener and Hutchison 2006: 49). In other words, while Park investigated the way human formed the city, Wirth studied urban environmental influence on human. Wirth’s famous ‘Urbanism as a Way of Life’ thesis13 (Wirth 1938) dealt with the way the city – population size, density and heterogeneity – led to the shift from primary to secondary relations, substitution of competition and social control for solidarity, social disorganization, anonymity, fragmentation of personality. Wirth painted a bleak picture of urban personality and everyday life.

The Chicago School is also regarded as originating the celebrated ethnographic research that later served as the foundation for much of the contemporary qualitative research. However, the Chicagoan methodology encompassed much more: Thomas and Znaniecki brought in the biographic and documentary analysis, geographical mapping was already done by Hull House scholars and later formed one of the constitutive traits of Chicago research, and quantitative surveys and statistical analyses were also widely used, contrary to a popular belief14.

1.2.4. The Legacy of the School

In the twenty years of the School, students of Robert Park and his colleagues created a lasting legacy of research on Chicago urban zones, social groups, migration dynamics, racial and religious relations, crime patterns, family structures. Much of this research was solidly grounded in Chicagoan theoretical and methodological foundations. While was a widely acknowledged diversity and heterogeneity within the community, a particular combination of certain traits of the School is to be found in almost any study published there at the time. Perhaps more than anything else, common commitment to the study of a common location15 guided the Chicagoan research and made it into a more or less coherent corpus of research, and the city of Chicago of the time into one of the most thoroughly studied single objects in the history of social sciences.

1.3. Los Angeles, CA: Excavating the Future of Urban Theory in Southern California16

Thanks to the ubiquitous produce of Hollywood movie industry Los Angeles holds iconic status amongst world cities. Indeed, all too often the audience sees Hong Kong or London on the screen that was actually filmed somewhere in the depths of Los Angeles movie studio grounds or on multicultural streets of the City of Angels. Thanks to the efforts of Los Angeles based community of researchers Los Angeles since 1980-s holds an important place for urban theory as the city that is thought by some people to replace Chicago as the iconic city of our times.

1.3.1. The City of Future?

Even for America, Los Angeles is a young city-region whose population has exploded since late XIX century to make Southern California urban agglomeration into one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world however defined. Carey McWilliams once stated that even ‘boom’ does not correctly identify Los Angeles population growth history: “[e]very city has had its boom, but the history of Los Angeles is the history of its booms. Actually, the growth of Southern California since 1870 is the history of its booms” (McWilliams 1973 [1946]: 114). Edward Soja continues this observation, suggesting that L.A.’s urban growth is “the rhythm of virtually continuous expansion, occasionally slowed down somewhat but never reversed by national and global recessions” (2000: 122). It is a land of paradoxes and oppositions. For urban sociology Southern California with Los Angeles as its de-jure center has presented an exemplar in the rural-urban confusion. Already in 1946 McWilliams wrote that “[f]or all practical purposes, it is a non-rural region; there are few strictly rural districts. In effect, Southern California constitutes a single metropolitan district which should be characterized as rurban: neither city nor country but everywhere a mixture of both” (McWilliams 1973 [1946]: 12). If Chicago was the boundary town between parts of America, Los Angeles signifies the westernmost frontier, the final place where everything ‘comes together’ (Soja 1989). With about 15 million inhabitants the region increasingly attracted the attention of urban scholars over the last decades17.

1.3.2. The L.A. School of Urban Studies

A new group of scholars has emerged in 1980s in Los Angeles to claim the throne of the School in urban studies. The ‘Los Angeles School’ devoted itself to the exploration of the region that, according to Michael Dear, has recently become “not the exception but rather a prototype of the city of future” (Dear 2002b: vii). Since its inception the Los Angeles School was an intellectual project of a group of scholars actively promoting themselves as a school and endorsing this identity (as opposed to the Chicago School).

One of the most fervent advocates of the L.A. School, Michael Dear has exposed the history of conceptual and institutional development of the School in a range of publications (see Dear and Flusty 2002 for a recent version). The project was born in 1980-s, when a group of scholars mostly in geography and urban planning began publishing studies of the region. In 1986 a special issue of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space was edited by Allen Scott and Edward Soja and was entirely devoted to understanding Los Angeles. October 11-12, 1987, is designated as the semi-official ‘birth date’ of the School. In those days a group of scholars “gathered at Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains… to discuss the wisdom of engaging in a Los Angeles School” (Dear and Flusty 2002: 10). The most prominent people in the L.A. School are Michael Dear, Steven Flusty, Mike Davis, Allen Scott, and Edward Soja. Perhaps the single most debatable piece of the L.A. School is the article Postmodern Urbanism authored by Michael Dear and Steven Flusty (Dear and Flusty 1998). The article has spurred a number of debates among urban geographers on the grounds of its proclaimed postmodernism18.

From early on, the L.A. School works were affiliated closely with postmodernism and postmodernist epistemology. In one of the first treatments of the ‘School’ phenomenon, Marco Cenzatti writes that “[v]ery broadly defined, the name ‘Los Angeles School’ identifies the work of a group of local researchers who, from the early ’80s onwards, discovered in Los Angles a series of social, economic and spatial trends symptomatic of a general transformation currently taking place in the entire U.S. urban and social structure” (Cenzatti 1993: 5). He does not hesitate, though, to add that the L.A. School was not creating a new totalizing image such as one Cenzatti identified in the Chicago School. Contrariwise, L.A. scholars attempted to ‘deflate’ the logic of one unified explanation, trying to create a “critique of totalizing and linear narratives of modernism, of its reliance on a center, and of its teleological search for a causa prima” (Cenzatti 1993: 7). The absence of a unified and linear pattern is, according to Cenzatti, characteristic not only of L.A. School epistemology but of its theory and of its object of research. Hence “the possibility of constructing a more comprehensive framework without falling back into dominating master theories that neglect the meaning and importance of specificity and diversity” (Cenzatti 1993: 21).

Among the most notable appearances of the L.A. School work in print are the two edited volumes that contain collections of articles documenting the rise of Los Angeles as the new frontier of urban change. Revealing of the editors’ willingness to challenge the Chicago School legacy are the very titles: The City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the Twentieth Century (Scott and Soja 1996) and From Chicago to L.A.: Making Sense of Urban Theory (Dear 2002a). 1996 was the year when two more edited volumes appeared, Rethinking Los Angeles (edited by Michael J. Dear, H. Eric Shockman and Greg Hise) and Ethnic Los Angeles (edited by Roger Waldinger and Mehdi Bozorgmehr). The following books should be mentioned among other works belonging to the school: Postsuburban California: The Transformation of Orange Form since World War II (edited by Rob Kling, Spencer Olin and Mark Poster, 1991), The Postmodern Urban Condition (Michael J. Dear, 2000), Variations on a Theme Park (edited by Michael Sorkin, 1992), Technopolis: High Technology Industry and Regional Development in Southern California (Allen J. Scott, 1993). A complex picture of L.A. human/urban geography has been developed throughout the two decades by Edward W. Soja in his Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (1989), Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (1996a) and Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions (2000). The last volume is particularly interesting in that in addition to developing a conceptual framework for urban research, exploring the geographic history of human urban settlement, and attempting to re-create an account of the riots that took place in L.A. in 1992 following the Rodney King case19, Soja devotes the largest second part of the book to a sweeping survey of urban studies reminiscent of Louis Wirth’s (1925) Bibliography of Urban Community. In describing the ‘Six Discourses on the Postmetropolis’ Soja effectively creates an intellectual mapping of the landscape of contemporary urban research as seen through the perspective of the Los Angeles School.

Institutionally the school was based in a multitude of places, primarily in the South California Studies Center in University of South California, Los Angeles, and in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning in UCLA (recently reformed into Faculty of Urban Planning20).

1.3.3. The Ideas of the L.A. School

The L.A. School ideas are centered on two traits that unify the School according to its adherents. These ideas are radical contemporary restructuring of urban world and the explicit postmodernist orientation (Cenzatti 1993, Flusty and Dear 1998, Soja 2000). The contemporary city is seen to be radically changing into something radically new. Edward Soja writes of a ‘postmetropolitan transition’, the revolutionary change in the structure of urban environment that is going through the processes of “selective deconstruction and still evolving reconstitution of modern metropolis” (Soja 2000: 148). Economic, social, political and cultural phenomena are postulated as entering a new postmodern state. For example, the economic basis of Southern California – light industry and knowledge and high technology production – is understood as the expression of a post-Fordist industrial regime of flexible accumulation. However, because of the intellectual diversity it is hard to discern any single synthetic idea that would lie behind L.A. School works. In general terms, however, a Marxist foundation and attention to the questions of power and economy, and a common interest in spatiality and questions of urban built environment seems to lie behind much Los Angeles theorizing (many of Los Angeles School ‘members’ are human geographers with neo-Marxist education).

Within the School itself there are at least two versions of intellectual mapping of the School, the aforementioned Soja’s ‘Discourses on the Postmetropolis’ (Soja 2000: Part II) and the one presented by Steven Flusty and Michael Dear in their construction of a postmodern urbanism (Flusty and Dear 1998). The former are worth reciting at some length. Soja describes six ‘discourses’, bodies of texts based on a common object (LA region) and topic. The first pair of discourses – ‘Postfordist Metropolis’ and ‘Cosmopolis’ – touches upon the causes of the new urban restructuring processes. The second pair – ‘Exopolis’ and ‘Fractal City’ – deals with the spatial and social realization and consequences of these processes. The third pair – ‘Carceral Archipelago’ and ‘Simcities’ – addresses the question of how people continue to live and survive under these changing conditions. Soja’s outline indicates the internal diversity of Los Angeles School that looks more like an agenda for research than a coherent school of thought21.

Throughout the works of the L.A. School’s main proponents – Michael Dear, Steven Flusty, and Edward Soja – the Chicago School is depicted as the corpus of knowledge they refer to and are seeking to transcend. Particularly illuminating is the 2002 Dear edited volume that is organized as a set of articles ‘responding’ to different aspects of 1925 The City book. In the process, Chicago School is portrayed in a debatable reductionist fashion. However, it should be mentioned that there is an important affinity between the two schools in the shared methodological principle of ‘paradigmatic city’. I will comment on this principle in the third chapter after examining the problem of ‘Schools’ in urban theory. The key question at this point is why the ostensive attempt to ground the research in the Chicago legacy was done in such a way as to present an image grossly underrepresenting the Chicago ideas. A tentative answer is that the two bodies of research are more or less incompatible with each other.

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