In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Urban Sociology

  • Introduction
  • Major Publishing Outlets for Urban Sociologists
  • Urbanization in Western and Non-Western Societies
  • Classical Theory on Urbanization
  • Contemporary Theory on Urbanization
  • Macro-Level Studies of Urban Society and Culture
  • How Urban Sociology Works

Urban Studies Urban Sociology
Daniel J. Monti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0016


Urban sociology is among the earliest and richest areas of sociological inquiry. It touches on topics and problems related to the way urban areas develop and the way people live in urban areas. While most of the attention of urban sociologists has been on more contemporary urban settings in Western societies, they’ve shown increasing interest in urban development and urban life in so-called developing countries and the Far East, especially India and China. By nature an interdisciplinary pursuit, five major academic fields contribute to urban sociology: anthropology, economics, history, political science, and social psychology. Specialists in these respective disciplines read and cite each other’s work and borrow from each other’s theoretical insights. One major profession, urban planning, is affiliated with urban sociology. It, too, has its own entry in Oxford Bibliographies in Geography: “Urban Planning and Geography.” Other Oxford Bibliographies touch on themes discussed here. Among them are “The Chicago School of Urban Sociology,” “Suburbanism,” “Gentrification,” “Residential Segregation,” “Community,” “Urban Economics,” “Social Movements in Cities,” and “Riots.” Given the rich disciplinary sources that feed into urban sociology, this area of inquiry probably can be best understood by the themes that allow researchers to connect the disparate kinds of studies they do. The several sections into which this essay is divided have works that reflect one or more of the following four themes: (1) Urban sociologists focus on either the physical development of urban places (i.e., urbanization) or the way of life or culture practiced there (i.e., urbanism). (2) The work of urban sociologists asks how urban places are built and laid out as cities and metropolitan areas. It also asks how urban settlements might be rebuilt or developed so they better serve or complement the way people live there. (3) Some sociologists look at smaller groups of urban dwellers or venues in urban areas such as neighborhoods (i.e., “micro” studies) and other kinds of “communities” such as those one might find in a suburb. Others look at much larger geographic landscapes such as metropolitan areas and urban regions (i.e., “macro” studies). (4) Urban sociologists can be optimistic about the prospects for urban places and people or, more frequently, pessimistic about how well they will fare. The resilience and effectiveness of people living in urban settings are more often subordinated to a view of them as part of a marginalized and less well-regarded group, surviving rather than accomplishing much in the places they live, work, and practice politics.

Major Publishing Outlets for Urban Sociologists

Sociologists and professionals in related disciplines that do research involving urban people and places publish in a variety of outlets: books, academic journals, and research reports. Examples of each are among the works cited in other sections of this bibliographic essay. Research on urban affairs will appear in the most prominent journals in sociology, political science, history, and, of course, urban planning. As interest in urban phenomena grew in the latter decades of the 20th century, however, specialized journals dealing specifically with urbanization and urban life were created. Most peer-reviewed research on urban related subjects now appears in these outlets: Journal of Urban Affairs, Urban Affairs Review, City & Community, Journal of Urban History, Journal of the American Planning Association, Urban Studies, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and like journals. Several university presses specialize in the publication of books on urban places and people, notable among them Chicago, Columbia, New York University, and Fordham. The Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute are independent policy institutes that publish a great deal of urban research. Most journals and the institutes have a more liberal orientation. City Journal, which is published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, has a more conservative approach to public policy and urban affairs generally.

  • The Brookings Institution.

    Conducts research and education in the social sciences, primarily in economics, metropolitan policy, governance, foreign policy, and global economy and development. It was founded in 1916 and is located in Washington, DC.

  • City & Community. 2002–.

    Published in collaboration with the Community and Urban Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association.

  • City Journal. 1990–.

    Published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a national think tank based in New York City. Principally a journal dedicated to urban-related policy, it is notable for its pro-development and free-market approach to public policy.

  • International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 1977–.

    Publishes a great deal of comparative and geographic research and also features authors from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. It will publish papers on policy, practice, and theory that are intended to provoke debate among experts in their fields and challenge prevailing theoretical, policy, and methodological approaches to the study of urban places.

  • Journal of the American Planning Association. 1935–.

    The official journal of the American Planning Association, a professional organization representing the field of urban planning in the United States.

  • Journal of Urban Affairs. 1979–.

    The flagship journal of the Urban Affairs Association, covering metropolitan and community problems and urban society.

  • Journal of Urban History. 1974–.

    A multidisciplinary journal that publishes research on urban life and city building.

  • Urban Affairs Review. 1965–.

    Covers the field of urban studies, including urban policy, urban economic development, and residential and community development. It is published in association with the Urban Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

  • The Urban Institute.

    A Washington, DC, think tank that that was founded in 1968. Its staff studies the effectiveness of different social policies intended to affect urban places and populations.

  • Urban Studies. 1964–.

    Publishes research relevant to a host of academic and policy debates. From its inception, it has had an international focus, advancing work on cities and urban regions across the globe, and published articles by experts from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.