Urban Violence Is Not (Necessarily) a Way of Life: Towards a Political Economy of Conflict in Cities

Dennis Rodgers

in Urbanization and Development

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780199590148
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595493 | DOI:

Series: WIDER Studies in Development Economics

Urban Violence Is Not (Necessarily) a Way of Life: Towards a Political Economy of Conflict in Cities

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In a classic article on ‘Urbanism as a way of life’, the Chicago sociologist Louis Wirth famously linked cities to violence and breakdown, on the grounds that the urban context constituted a space that inherently generated conflictual forms of social organization and collective action as a result of three key attributes: population size, density, and heterogeneity. While these can plausibly be considered universal features of cities, it is much less obvious that they necessarily lead to conflict. Certainly, not all cities around the world are violent, and taking off from Wirth's characterization of the city, this chapter seeks to understand how and why under certain circumstances compact settlements of large numbers of heterogeneous individuals give rise to violence and conflict, while in others they do not, focusing in particular on wider structural factors as seen through the specific lens of urban gang violence.

Keywords: Chicago School of Sociology; gangs; urbanism; violence; Wirth; JEL codes; R00; Z10

Chapter.  6420 words. 

Subjects: Economic Development and Growth

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