This Research Bulletin has been published in Environment and Planning A, 36 (6), (2004), 951-958.
Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.
SHOCKING SOCIAL SCIENCE
The phrase 'the shock of the new' is used as a descriptor of change in the visual arts and is particularly associated with the modernist movement (Hughes, 1991). However, the social sciences are no less vulnerable to rapid changes in their subject matter but here the preferred signifier has been to invoke 'paradigm shifts'. This, of course, provides association with the natural sciences and their stable periods of 'normal science', periodically interrupted by 'scientific revolutions'. This model is conservative in the sense that the process revolves between alternative paradigms and their scientific establishments. The effects of 'the shock of the new' can be rather less conservative: instead of creating a new stability the result may be continual dissolution. In this short note we explore the idea that this humanities model of change is actually much more relevant to the social sciences than has previously been admitted. After all, social sciences and humanities share a common 'modern subject' that is 'a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration' (Berman, 1988, page 15).
Detection of recent rapid change in the social sciences is easy: we have been awash with a plethora of post-this and post-that for the last couple of decades. These are descriptors of general overall intellectual changes based upon theoretical, epistemological and ontological criticisms of the social science disciplines. Broadly speaking, the latter were largely institutionalised in the first half of the twentieth century, flowered in the third quarter, and went into 'crisis' in the fourth quarter. This 'high' level of criticism and change is important but not more so that the struggles of everyday social science practice to grasp ever-changing subjects. At the coalface, social scientists have been forced to keep re-conceptualising their particular subject matters in order to maintain credible descriptions. It is this empirical research that is our subject matter here. In particular, we review how Anglo-American descriptions of cities have coped with massive changes in the subject matter of urban studies.
In the mid-twentieth century urban studies was established as a vibrant field of research. The treatment of cities was relatively straightforward with the subject matter divided into two parts: the internal structure of cities and the external relations of cities. Both were formally modelled - as land use distance models and central place hierarchy models respectively - but most research was of a concrete nature depicting empirical patterns for particular cities (e.g. factorial ecologies and hinterland studies). Generalizations of these studies linked with the formal models to provide two basic conceptual givens. First, cities were organised around central business districts surrounded by various sectors and zones, the outer being a largely residential suburbia. Second, inter-city relations were organised as national urban systems structured as national urban hierarchies. The two sides of this urbanism were famously brought together by Berry (1964) in his 'cities as systems within systems of cities'. But no sooner had this neat arrangement been codified and widely disseminated through urban geography textbooks, both urban patterns began to alter: processes of economic decentralization meant that suburbia as the residential ideal for family living was fundamentally changed into something else; and processes of economic globalization meant that inter city relations fundamentally changed from national urban hierarchies into something else. We are interested in these 'something elses'. In the decades since these changes were first observed, empirical researchers have wrestled with the problem of labelling the new emerging urban patterns. In the process the conceptual clarity of the old orthodox urban studies has been lost to history and no equivalent new clarity has taken its place. Thus there appears to be a conceptual disintegration.
100 WAYS TO DESCRIBE RECENT URBAN CHANGE
In Table 1 we have compiled two lists of terminologies used to describe new metropolitan forms and new inter city relations. Finding 50 examples of each was not a particularly onerous task; the lists are most certainly not intended to be comprehensive. The main point of the table is simply its size. The fact that there are at least 100 ways of describing recent urban change in the literature is a remarkable finding. To be sure, some concepts have been more influential than the others - for list A we might identify 'edge city' and for list B 'world city hierarchy' - and part of the proliferation of labels derives from debates surrounding these prominent concepts. But this is only a small part of the story. Creative imaginations are at work in using metaphors and analogies (galaxy/galactic, archipelago, lynchpin, etc.) to try and capture what is going on spatially in the new urbanism.
In list A the main feature that the authors are trying to capture is a spatial dispersal of urban functions most notably in terms of the 'suburbanization of offices'. Thus the terms 'suburb' and 'suburban' continue to be used (8 times). But this process is much more complex than a simple dispersal, the decentralization involves a degree of re-centralization. Hence 'city' appears 12 times, 'downtown' 3 times, and 'core twice. The spread out nature of the phenomenon is reflected in two uses of 'regional' plus an array of terms to indicate outward expansion such as 'spillover', 'spread' and 'stealth' as well as the more prosaic 'outer'. There are also indications that the new forms negate the traditional city as in 'anticity', 'exopolis', and 'outtown' as well as by bringing together features usually considered opposites as in 'countrified city' and 'urban village'. This reminds us that these conceptualisations were not conceived in a political vacuum: the controversies are reflected in derogatory appellations such as 'disturb' and 'slurbs'. For a more detailed discussion of an initial version of list A, see Lang (2003, pages 30-36).
In list B there are two key features being described: first, the new scale of activities and second, the form that the inter-city relations take. In terms of the former, 'global' is the most popular with 19 usages followed closely by 'world' with 17. In much of the literature these two terms are used interchangeably (e.g. King, 1990) despite Sassen's (1991) careful justification using 'global' to transcend 'world'. As we might expect, 'international'/'internationally' is not widely used (5 times) in this context where it is outnumbered by a 'contra-international' combination of 'transnational' (3 uses), 'worldwide' (2 uses), 'cross-border' and 'planetary' (one use each). In terms of the relations exhibited, the 'system' and 'hierarchy' forms that dominated the national scale remain common labels at the new scale (system 15 mentions, hierarchy 6) but 'network' joins 'system' in first place with its 15 uses. In addition, there are other terms that move beyond the traditional system/hierarchy consensus on how cities relate: grid (mentioned 3 times), web, chain, and matrices (one use each).
In both lists there is some recycling of old terms (e.g. 'suburban' and 'hierarchy') plus some fresh innovative ways of describing the new circumstances. But why so many new concepts?
WHAT CAN THIS PROLIFERATION OF CONCEPTS MEAN?
Trying to understand this proliferation of terminology is not a straightforward matter. As well as the changing urban condition that the authors are trying to convey, there are coincidental changes happening in social science itself. However, we can begin with a simple assertion: by and large, the variety of terms is not a trivial matter of semantics. In other words, for example, 'network of world cities' does mean something different from 'world city network', the placing of the adjective 'world' implies different theories relating to world city formation and world city network formation respectively.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways to view the abundance of terms in Table 1. One is to celebrate the variety: the world, especially the urban world, is inherently 'messy' and therefore it is only to be expected that it should be described in multifarious ways. The other is to suspect that there is more than a little incoherent thinking abroad in contemporary urban studies. A degree of conceptual disintegration is to be expected but this invention of concept after concept is hardly conducive to credible understanding of what's going on in and between our cities. Readers will have surmised that we are in the second camp of interpreters. We do not think we can return to the 'certainties' of a generation ago, nor would we wish to if it were possible, but we do think that we probably do not need more than a hundred new concepts to understand the spatiality of the new urbanism. Inventing new concepts is always interesting but there must be a threshold when additional concepts obfuscate rather than illuminate.
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* Loughborough University
** Metropolitan Institute, Virginia Tech
Table 1: 100 concepts describing recent urban change
List a derived in part from Lang (2003, Table 3-1). Sources for concepts are as follows.
A: 1 - Loov (1985); 2: - Lang and Simmons (2003); 3 - Fishman (1990); 4 - Daniels (1985); 5 - Doherty (1984); 6 - Baldassare and Katz (1987); 7 - Garreau (1991); 8 - Lang (2003); 9 - Lang and Simmons (2003); 10 - Katz (2001); 11 - Soja (1997); 12 - Lewis (1983); 13 - Gillham (2002); 14 - Baerwald (1983), Huth (1983); 15 - Orski (1985), Cervero (1986); 16 - Church (1987); 17 - Fishman (1990); 18 - Hartshorn and Muller (1986); 19 - Baldassare (1986); 20 - Romanos, Schifos and Fenner (1988); 21 - Breckenfeld (1972). Muller (1976); 22 - Cevero (1986); 23 - Lynch (1961); 24 - Pivo (1990); 25 - Baerwald (1978); 26 - Muller (1976), Stevens (1987); 27 - Goldberger (1987); 28 - Lessinger (1987); 29 - Calthorpe and Fulton (2000); 30 - Hutton and Davis (1985); 31 - Sternlieb and Hughes (1988); 32 - Malin (1988); 33 - Huxtable (1973); 34 - Packard (1972); 35 - Regional Plan Association (1960); 36 - Brooks (2002); 37- Knox (1992); 38 - Gordon and Richardson (1996); 39 - Hartshorn and Muller (1986); 40 - Baerwald (1982); Hartshorn and Muller (1989); 41 - Cervero (1989), Freestone and Murphy (1998); 42 - Baerwald (1978); 43 - Hughes and Sternlieb (1986); 44 - Erickson and Gentry (1985); 45 - Fishman (1987); 46 - Herbers (1986); 47 - Leinberger (1990); 48 - Lynch (1961); 49 - Vance (1964); 50 - Leinberger (1984); Leinberger and Lockwood (1986).
B: 1 - Veltz (2000); 2 - Amin and Thrift (2002); 3 - Smith and Timberlake (1995); 4 - Sassen (1999); 5 - Lo and Yeung (1998); 6 - Kunzmann (1998); 7 - El-Shakhs and Shoshkes (1998); 8 - Brotchie et al. (1995); 9 - Saskia (1998); 10 - King (1990a); 11 - Tolosa (1998), Smith and Feagin (1988); 12 - Sassen (1991); 13 - Harper (1990); 14 - Castells (1996); 15 - Hall (1995), Honjo (1998); 16 - Sassen (1991); 17 - Short and Kim (1999); 18 - Short and Kim (1999), Simon (1995); 19 - Sirat and Ghazali (1999); 20 - Smith and Timberlake (1995); 21 - Goddard (1995); 22 - Blakely (1992); 23 - Graham and Marvin (1996); 24 - Lyons and Salmon (1995); 25 - Graham and Marvin (1996); 26 - Smith and Timberlake (1995); 27 - Castells (1993); 28 - Amin and Thrift (1992); 29 - Campagni (1993); 30 - Castells (1993); 31 - Knight (1989); 32 - Graham and Marvin (1996); 33 - El-Shakhs and Shoshkes (1998); 34 - Chase-Dunn (1985); 35 - Gappert (1989); 36 - Sassen (1994); 37- Smith (2001); 38 - Smith (2003); 39 - Friedmann (1986); 40 - Taylor (2001); 41 - Lo (1994); 42 - Meyer (1998); 43 - Alger (1990); 44 - Meyer (1986); 45 - Meyer (1991); 46 - Clark (1996); 47 - King (1990b); 48 - Smith and Timberlake (1995); 49 - Sassen (1998); 50 - Sassen (1994).
Edited and posted on the web on 12th January 2004
Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Environment and Planning A, 36 (6), (2004), 951-958.