1.1.2. The City - A Living Organism 

15 June 2021

If we imagine that in a city like Chicago, in an area of significant disorder, there could be 20 different gangs or subcultures that exist, and each has its territory, its racial identity or an idiosyncrasy that it connects with. If we zoom out of this city, we can see the movement of the different gangs or subcultures, where each individual goes, whom they talk with, where they eat and the crimes they commit. If one followed this for long enough, one might see interesting patterns of behaviour that give the perception of the city to that of a living organism, a view that sociologist Robert E. Park (1925) writes about. From Parks's view of city groups such as gangs or subcultures, I would like to differentiate the negative delinquency view of subcultures from that of a socially supportive response to city life. That manifest in inner compulsion in the few that people flocked to find solidarity against the civilising demands of urban life.  

Park saw the city as a manifestation of human nature that created pockets of different milieus for the socialisation of social groups with different moral views. In a time of industrialisation, Park refers to as ‘Vocational’ types in the city (such as ‘shop assistants’ and ‘stock exchange speculators’) people who achieved their social solidarity through the tasks they carry out (Park, 1925). Some people did not find social solidarity in their actions. There were different types, in the city, eccentric, peculiar to themselves. For Park, a city is a place that enables extremes. People who complied with the norms of the industrial working structures placed on them and others felt restricted. The city for Park is a mixture of proximities between people on the one hand, and segregation on the other: Variety and arrangement, social instabilities and social planning: a kind of disorganised organisation (Gelder, 1997, p. 20). Polarising factors make up a city, and it’s different milieu’s and social groups that move through processes of forming and dissolving. Cities are not homogeneous places but are highly variable, differentiated, stratified, active, ever-changing ecologies (Gelder, 1997, p, 20). Park proposes that a city licenses difference, socially, culturally and morally (Gelder, 1997, p, 20).

So as well as gangs forming out of necessity to survive due to social disorganisation, groups or individual views formed out of the civilising influences of urban life taking place in initiatives such as Hull house, that combatted the problems of delinquency in the community with disciplinary consequences. The disciplinary influences that come with urban living Park suggest produced, even though it tries to suppress, yearnings for something less restrained. “The very controls and inhibitions the city puts into place ‘emancipate’ wilder urges among ‘exceptional people’. The City enables these people to form their own like-minded ‘moral regions’: places in which ‘a divergent moral code prevails’, but which also constitutes a natural part of the city’s complex ecology” (Gelder, 1997, p. 20). In Gelder’s summary of Park, he describes an environment within cities in which subcultures evolve, differentiating them from gangs of delinquents. It is the exceptional people that Park refers to that are without themselves knowing it eccentric. Their actions of communication, drawing people together and questioning the status quo forms the subcultures. From this view, one can imagine a wide range of different social units in the city, involving different types of people that do not act delinquently that can be considered subcultures; it is possible to imagine the potential benefits of subcultures. 

1.2. Birmingham School