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Urbanisation: How has urbanisation shaped the modern selfhood and community ?

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living standards offer new opportunities, especially professionally and academically.

Coming to the second category, urban development had dramatic consequences on the individual: on a strictly factual side, the dense traffic and not so environment friendly water treatment contributes to the degradation of health of urbanites. Plus, due to overpopulation in cities, especially in the east where hygiene is not a priority, easy communicable diseases spread fast. Overcrowded cities and consequently urban social problems enhance personality disorders such as crime and delinquency. Differentiation in urban environment foster social distance between people (Wirth 1938), even within the familial home. The paradoxical loss of privacy evolving parallel to the social distance is responsible for family breakdown, because there are no longer boundaries between home and city. The individual finds himself torn between two motivations: that is the felt anonymity in a mass of people wandering every day on the streets, but at the same time the expectation of each member to stand out by extraordinary actions contributing to society. Moreover each individual can be subject to huge insecurity, financial as well as emotional. Indeed, the vagaries of a constantly evolving urban economy and the great demand on the work market creates the uncertainty of employment, while the high level of daily stress causes ‘burn-outs’, very common nowadays.

The German sociologist Georg Simmel depicted the negative consequences urban life had on each individual in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century. According to him, the urban individual, in his independence and individuality, is perpetually in conflict with the technical and cultural powers of society (Simmel 2011: 11). He tries to keep what makes him individual intact against the more and more persistent influences of society. This permanent conflict affects the individual in many ways: on the one hand, a ‘nervous exhaustion’ occurs due to a rapid and uninterrupted exchange of external and internal impressions; in other words, a stressful city life originates deep psychological problems. Simmel sees the ‘capitalist city as a sensorium that assault the urbanite with a cacophony of sights and sounds, including advertising, commodities, pedestrians and vehicular traffic [external impressions]. The decline of tradition mores and small-town prejudices had fostered greater freedom and cosmopolitanism for the individual [internal impressions]. [He] believed the experience of modernity was somewhat paradoxical; the urban commercial sensorium fed the self while starving the spirit. (…). There was rootlessness that came with participation in urban society and the modern marketplace.’(Lin & Mele, 2005:2). Even the individual’s own individuality is threatened by the rational thinking that accompanied the urbanisation during the industrial revolution. While in small rural areas, the soul and close, emotionally strong relationships were fundamental, the intellectualistic character of the urbanite is ‘indifferent of all things personal’ because it cannot be understood by his rationality; thus social ties become weaker and based on personal interests, everyday thinking functional and emotionless. Relationships are more intellectual, change into associations or partnerships. On the other hand, Simmel evokes the principle of money. This ‘common-to-all’ concept seems to spread itself to the human mind and changes the city into to an extremely objective environment. The money economy seems to be inseparable from the intellectualistic attitude. The life of the citizen had to be organized and coordinated in the most punctual way into the common framework. The failure to follow the established agreement on time for instance would cause a total breakdown of an economic and commercial city life. Thus, as said above, the individual does not only have to fight for his individuality, but also for his independence.

Having taken into account various views on modern city life and existence, one can conclude that every human being, in his character and attitude, is defined by social interaction and setting. A person being raised in an urban milieu will be used to certain norms and habits and taught social skills which are probably not applicable to a life in a small country village, and vice versa. I may therefore say that urbanisation, with its positive and negative considerations, has shaped the modern selfhood and created the millennial man. (1564 words)


Fischer, C., 1976. The urban experience, United Kingdom: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Judd, D. & Simpson, D., 2011. The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, University of Minnesota Press.

Lin, J. & Mele, C., 2005. The Urban Sociology Reader, United Kingdom: London ; Routledge.

Macionis, J.J. & Plummer, K., 2005. Chapter 24: Populations, cities and the space of things to come. In Sociology: a global introduction. Harlow: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Fischer, C., 1983. ‘To Dwell among Friends: Personal Networks in Town and City’ reviewed by John F. McClymer in The Public Historian, 5 (4): 111-113.

Simmel, G., 2011. The Metropolis and Mental Life. In G. Bridge & S. Watson, eds. The New Blackwell Companion to the City. Malden, MA: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated.

Tönnies, F., 2001. Tönnies: Community and Civil Society J. Harris & M. Hollis, eds., Cambridge University Press.

Wirth, L., 1938. Urbanism as a Way of Life. American Journal of Sociology,


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