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Sociology: A Brief Introduction, 4/e
Richard T. Schaefer, DePaul University

Communities And The Environment

Learning Objectives

A community is a spatial or political unit of social organization that gives people a sense of belonging. This chapter explains how communities originated and analyzes the process of urbanization from both the functionalist and conflict perspectives. It describes various types of communities, including the central cities, the suburbs, and rural communities, and it introduces the new concept of an electronic community. The functionalist and conflict perspectives are also used to explore environmental issues.

After studying this chapter you should be able to understand the following:


Stable communities began to develop when people stayed in one place to cultivate crops; surplus production enabled cities to emerge.


Gideon Sjoberg identified three preconditions of city life: advanced technology in both agricultural and nonagricultural areas, a favorable physical environment, and a well-developed social organization.


There are important differences between the preindustrial city, the industrial city, and the postindustrial city.


Urbanization is evident not only in the United States but throughout the world; by 2000, 45 percent of the world's population lived in urban areas.


The urban ecological approach is functionalist because it emphasizes that different elements in urban areas contribute to stability.


Drawing on conflict theory, new urban sociology considers the interplay of a community's political and economic interests as well as the impact of the global economy on communities in the United States and other countries.


Many urban residents are immigrants from other nations and tend to live in ethnic neighborhoods.


In the last three decades, cities have confronted an overwhelming array of economic and social problems, including crime, unemployment, and the deterioration of schools and public transit systems.


Suburbanization was the most dramatic population trend in the United States throughout the twentieth century. In recent decades, suburbs have witnessed increasing diversity in race and ethnicity.


Farming, mining, and logging have all been in decline in the rural communities of the United States.


Technological advances like electronic information networks are changing the economy, the distribution of population, and even the concept of community.


Three broad areas of environmental concern are air pollution, water pollution, and contamination of land.


Using the human ecological perspective, sociologist Riley Dunlap suggests that the natural environment serves three basic functions: It provides essential resources, it serves as a waste repository, and it "houses" our species.


Conflict theorists charge that the most serious threat to the environment comes from Western industrialized nations.


Environmental justice is concerned with the disproportionate subjection of minorities to environmental hazards.


Soaring housing costs, unemployment, cutbacks in public assistance, and rapid population growth have all contributed to rising homelessness around the world. Most social policy is directed toward sending the homeless to large shelters.