Parker, Simon: Urban Theory and the Urban Experience: Encountering the City.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Anderson, Alan B.
Pub Date: 01/01/2006
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Wntr, 2006 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Urban Theory and the Urban Experience: Encountering the City (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Parker, Simon
Accession Number: 167253626
Full Text: Parker, Simon Urban Theory and the Urban Experience: Encountering the City London and New York: Routledge, 2004. 210 pp. ISBN: 0-415-24592-3 pbk

In this book, Simon Parker, (Lecturer in Politics at the University of York [U.K.]), intends to bring together both classic and contemporary approaches to urban research, ostensibly--as be succinctly puts it--to reveal the intellectual origins of urban studies and the often unacknowledged debt that empirical and theoretical perspectives on the city owe each other.

In the opening chapter, "Encountering the City", Parker provides an introduction to urban theory--first asking why urban theory matters, then briefly discussing its development--before outlining the plan of the book.

The second chapter explores the classic "Foundations of Urban Theory" by focussing on four main German and French theorists. Max Weber's views of the city in history are based primarily on his book simply titled The City. Georg Simmel, a second major German contributor to the development of sociology as an academic discipline, outlined the culture of the metropolis in his seminal essay The Metropolis and Mental Life. Walter Benjamin described what he called the exegetical city. Finally, Henri Lefebvre discussed urban mode of production in The Right to the City.

In the next chapter, "The City Described", later empirical researchers and urban sociologists--including Henry Mayhew, Jacob Riis, Charles Booth, Jane Adams--who sought to comprehend first-hand urban communities, are discussed, followed by a concise description of the work of the early Chicago school --Park, Burgess, Wirth, Znaniecki, and others.

The fourth chapter, "Visions of Utopia: From the Garden City to a New Urbanism", essentially describes utopian schemes in urban planning, efforts to create idealized cities and communities. In the process the reader becomes acquainted with Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and LeCorbusier, among many others.

The succeeding chapter, "Between the Suburb and the Ghetto", focuses on the search for community in Britain and the United States in classic readings of the 1950s and 60s from the likes of Young and Willmott, Herbert Gans, Jane Jacobs, and W.H. Whyte, among others. Then, after discussing Joel Garreau's Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, the chapter concludes with a commentary on what Parker views as the polarized city, gentrification and ghettoization, the racialized city, the hyperghetto, and the globalizing ghetto.

The sixth chapter, "Urban Fortunes: Making Sense of the Capitalist City", attempts to bring together Marxist and neo-Marxist writing on capitalism within an urban context, from Marx and Engels to David Harvey, Manuel Castells, and Saskia Sassen. Parker argues that theories concerning the dynamics of urbanization, the spatial division of labour, the urban question, the information revolution, and the globalized network city all possess a core assumption that capitalist markets and relations of production are--in his view--the chief propellants of new urban configurations.

The following chapter, "The Contested City: Politics, People and Power", concentrates on what Parker calls the political city, specifically the conditions for administration and urban governance. This chapter includes a discussion of the changing face of urban social movements.

The eighth chapter, imaginatively titled "From Pillar to Post", returns to the theme of urban culture in focussing on increasingly diverse types of urban social identities. We are led through Mumford, Zukin, Sinnett, Habermas, Bourdieu, and Foucault to postmodernist views. En route the reader encounters the gendered city, queer spaces, heterotopia, deconstructing the city, and finally hybridity, virtuality, and the postmetropolis.

The concluding chapter, "Putting the City in Its Place: Urban Futures and the Future of Urban Theory", purports first to see whether urban theories and accounts of urban experience discussed bring us closer to a holistic understanding of the city and/or to an identifiable common ground from which we can plot future research questions and initiatives. The author asks which issues have been implicit, or even absent, in Western urban theory until recent times, and finally concludes by posing certain questions for future research and new directions in urban theory.

This is a very comprehensive and ambitious book. However, by covering such a broad range of theories, it is inevitably somewhat sketchy in terms of particular theoretical approaches. The author tends to range to and fro between classic, early modern, and more recent theories, rather than providing a systematic historical account of the gradual evolution of urban theory. Thus this book is more thematic than systematic.

A particular weakness is that the author doesn't extend his account of the early, foundational attempts at the sociocultural mapping of cities into a subsequent discussion of the further development of social/urban ecological theories, which surely could have been an important feature of a book on urban theory. While it is far-ranging, it is also selective in that it focuses mainly on British and American (and occasionally French and German) theorists and researchers, thus could be accused of being Eurocentric and western.

Urban Theory and the Urban Experience is clearly aimed at university undergraduate students: Every so often--even in mid-chapter--the author pauses to ask questions for discussion, and chapters are followed by useful suggestions for further reading (mostly writings by theorists discussed). In sum, this book is an excellent introduction--but simply that, an introduction--to urban theories.

Alan B. Anderson

Professor of Sociology and

Chair, International Studies Program,

University of Saskatchewan
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.