Communication Urban Communication
Susan Drucker, Gary Gumpert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0286


The development of urban communication research and activities is traceable from the early works of a diverse group of urbanists to more current research programs conducted by communication scholars. Urban communication foregrounds communication in the study of the urban landscape. The communication lens offers valuable perspectives and methodologies for the examination of urban and suburban life. It conceptualizes the city as a complex environment of interpersonal interaction, a landscape of spaces and places that shape human behavior, and an intricate technological environment. Urban communication examines the complexities of the city and community from diverse disciplines and multiple points of view. It is not a discipline but rather constitutes an interdisciplinary perspective from which critique, analysis, and recommendations emerge. An urban communication annotated bibliography is, by definition, derivative—owing its conception to a series of disciplines, theoretical contradictions, and technologies—all interconnected by the process of communication. The concept of urban commnication is best articulated and demonstrated through a Venn diagram with a series of circles that overlap, with the common center demonstrating an area, sphere, or zone of commonality and the non-common areas representing distinct disciplines. In the case of urban communication it is a three-dimensional Venn diagram in which the concept of communication is altered by the nature of place and technology. In that sense the concept of urban communication changes over time with changing physical and media environments. The concept of “urban” is based upon the philosophic bias of current academic and professional disciplines that approach the same general object within diverse frameworks and identities. The arena of analysis is astonishing in its breadth including the fields of geography, sociology, computer science, media, communication, architecture, planning, psychology, design, journalism, law, etc. Any approach and/or definition of urban communication, from an academic and professional perspective, is colored by the self-definition. Each academic discipline approaches the urban from what is perceived to be its unique insights. While it is relatively easy to identify disciplines looking at urban, our perception of urbanity has been the subject of innumerable novels, films, works of art, and other approaches which are beyond the scope of this entry. The interest of the city has been the subject of both public and professional/academic interest. Urban communication is a phenomenon. It approaches the city from a broader vantage point emphasizing the centrality of communication as implicit in examining the urban.


The foundational voices represent a true interdisciplinary foundation from which contemporary scholars have derived and defined the concept of urban communication. This category could also have included scholars and thinkers from the long past, beginning with Plato and Socrates, among others who wrestled with the nature and concerns of the metropolis. In addition, the public perception of the city has been articulated and captured in literature, the cinema, and the arts. Simmel 1997 and Park and Burgess 2019 provide the bedrock for examining the social and physical nature of cities in founding urban sociology. Philosopher Gaston Bachelar (Bachelard 2014) moves the relationship of public and private into the phenomenological realm while cultural anthropologist Edward Hall (Hall 1966) looks at the cultural dynamics of such spaces. Goffman 1959 and Berger and Luckmann 1966, whose authors were sociologists, push the relationship between public and private spaces as offered in cities into focusing on interaction. Social interaction is refocused by Carey 2008), the work of a communication scholar, taking a ritual approach to participation in community and in so doing, becomes a conscience for obligation to others. Lefebvre 1996 and Harvey 2012 shift attention to a more politically oriented approach to the urban dynamic, while Lynch 1960 brings the urban planner’s eye to relationship of people and cities.

  • Bachelard, Gaston. The poetics of space. London: Penguin Classics, 2014.

    Bachelard brings a phenomenological orientation to the study of space. The impact of space on the psyche is considered with emphasis on the house as a person’s first universe shaping their relationship beyond the house. Commentators have compared Bachelard’s views to those of the Martin Heidegger. Originally published in 1957.

  • Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1966.

    A foundational work in the field of social constructionism, Berger and Luckmann argue society as the creation of human interaction. Reality is therefore socially constructed by those living in a society because it is formed with reference to social knowledge distributed through interaction.

  • Carey, James. Communication as culture: Essays on media and society. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Routledge, 2008.

    A canon in communication/media studies, Carey, outlines his cultural studies approach to communication emphasizing the role of communication, public life, and the projection of community ideals in rituals and their embodiment in material forms. Originally published in 1989.

  • Goffman, Erving. The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor, 1959.

    Introduces a theory of symbolic interaction from a dramaturgical perspective. This approach remains influential and is associated with concepts of public spaces and private spaces. Originally published in 1956.

  • Hall, Edward T. The hidden dimension. New York: Doubleday, 1966.

    A pioneering work in which a cultural anthropologist explores the dynamics of people’s use of space, identifying range from intimate to public. The work is notable in developing the study of proxemics.

  • Harvey, David. Rebel cities: From the right to the city to the urban revolution. New York: Verso Books, 2012.

    Expanding on Lefebvre, Harvey looks at how city spaces are produced under capitalism and how cities might be reorganized in a more socially just and ecological way.

  • Lefebvre, H. The right to the city. In H. Lefebvre: Writings on cities. Edited by E. Kofinan and E. Lebas, 63–184. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996.

    A sprawling and magisterial manifesto arguing the need for an expanded sense of urban democracy as an integral element of a modern democratic polity. Originally published 1968.

  • Lynch, Kevin. The image of the city. Cambridge, MA, 1960.

    In this seminal work, urban planner Kevin Lynch, shows how people in urban settings orient themselves using “mental maps.” The work underscores the need to study environments and human encounters. Argues that clear mental maps are important to navigate a city without fear or disorientation and provides a framework for communication and conceptual organization.

  • Park, Robert E. and Ernest W. Burgess. The city. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226636641.001.0001

    A classic text by leading figures in the highly influential Chicago school of sociology that established the discipline of urban sociology. With foreword by Robert J. Sampson. Originally published in 1925.

  • Simmel, Georg. The metropolis and mental life. In Simmel on culture. Edited by D. Frisby and M. Featherstone, 174–184. London: SAGE, 1997.

    A sociological study of the dynamics of “big city life.” This highly influential article shaped many other scholars including Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, and Robert Park. Simmel explored the impact of the metropolis on the economy and the nature of public and private life. First published 1903.

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