Sociology Index

Louis Wirth

Among distinguished sociologists, Louis Wirth studied in the United States, where he became a leading sociologist in Chicago sociology during the 1930s. Louis Wirth's doctoral thesis was published as The Ghetto (1925), and he maintained his interests in city life, minority group behavior, and mass media throughout his influential career. Sociologist Louis Wirth is best known as the author of a classic essay on 'Urbanism as a Way of Life.' Louis Wirth's work, 'On Cities and Social Life', was published in 1964.

Louis Wirth writes that urbanism is a form of social organisation that is harmful to culture, and describes the city as a “Substitution of secondary for primary contacts, the weakening of bonds of kinship, the declining social significance of the family, the disappearance of neighbourhood and the undermining of traditional basis of social solidarity”. - Wirth, Louis (1938).

Louis Wirth also stressed the positive effects of city life: "the beginning of what is distinctively modern in our civilization is best signalized by the growth of great cities"; "metropolitan civilization is without question the best civilization that human beings have ever devised"; "the city everywhere has been the center of freedom and toleration, the home of progress, of invention, of science, of rationality." - Life in the City. In: Wirth 1956: p. 206-217.

The social understanding of minority groups that Wirth obtained as a Jewish immigrant in America, can equally be applied to understanding the problems of other minority groups in society, such as ethnic minorities, the disabled, homosexuals, women and the elderly, all of whom have also suffered, and/or continue to suffer prejudice, discrimination and disenfranchisement from the more numerically dominant members of a host society. - Wirth, L: "The Problem of Minority Groups." in Ralph Linton (ed.).

Urbanism as a way of life
The City and Contemporary Civilisation
By Louis Wirth. Because the city is the product of growth rather than of instantaneous creation, it is to be expected that the influences which it exerts upon the modes of life should not be able to wipe out completely the previously dominant modes of human association. To a greater or lesser degree, therefore, our social life bares the imprint of an earlier folk society, the characteristic modes of settlement of which were the farm, the manor, and the village.

This historic influence is reinforced by the circumstances that the population of the city itself is in large measure recruited from the countryside, where a mode of life reminiscent of this earlier form of existence persists. Hence we should not expect to find abrupt and discontinuous variation between urban and rural types of personality. The city and the country may be regarded as two poles in reference to one or the other of which all human settlements tend to arrange themselves. In viewing urban-industrial and rural-folk society as ideal types of communities, we may obtain a perspective for the analysis of the basic models of human association as they appear in contemporary civilization.