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How have sociologists described the effects of modern city life on people's psychic lives?

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How have sociologists described the effects of modern city life on people's psychic lives? (Simmel, Wirth and Sennett) The dominant modern experience is essentially urban. That is to say, modern experience is largely played out in cities which provide people with a radically different quality of life compared to that of a more rural, traditional existence that is characteristic of small settlements and rural villages. Sociologists such as Simmel and Wirth have cited significant features of city life such as size, density and heterogeneity in an attempt to analyse the character of social relationships attributed to the metropolis and the effects that such features have on the psychic lives of its residents. For the sociologist Goerg Simmel, the metropolis was the crucible of modern life' (Simmel as discussed in Saunders, P. 1986, p.95). In a well-known article, "The Metropolis and Mental Life", Simmel explored the consequences of city life for social interaction and highlighted some the psychic effects of living in the metropolis. In Simmel's work it is possible to discern three core themes: size, division of labour and money/rationality. The effects of all three are readily visible and most intensely felt in the city (Simmel as discussed in Saunders, P. ...read more.


One particular sociologist, Louis Wirth, was strongly influenced by Simmel's work, and in 1938, he published a famous article called 'Urbanism as a way of life,' which in many ways can be seen as an extension and modification of Simmel's work and provides an extensive account of the influences that city life exerts upon personality and social life (Wirth as discussed in Saunders, P. 1986 p.97). Wirth's analysis of the social effects of size is similar to that of Simmel. He develops the familiar argument that an increase in size leads to greater variation, which he suggests will be illustrated by the spatial segregation of different groups according to ethnicity, race, occupation, status etc. Like Simmel, he posits that any community, which extends beyond a few hundred members, limits the possibility that each member of the collective can know all the others personally. Increased group size is therefore directly related to the increased impersonality and superficiality of interpersonal relationships (Wirth as discussed in Smith, M. 1980 p.15). Emphasis is subsequently placed on secondary rather than primary contacts, as people no longer invest the whole of their personality in relationships. This has a number of psychic consequences. ...read more.


A premium had been placed on personal intimacy and as a result, little time, effort or psychic energy was expended outside personal relationships and the self-sufficient family life. Because of this intensive family life, public figures such as politicians come to be judged on personal criteria and personal appeal rather than their public position (Sennet as discussed in Smith, M. 1980 p.157). In addition, Sennett contends that in this sort of environment, people will run away from conflict rather than try to deal with it, for the absence of regular confrontation with "the stranger" weakens the public rituals once found to be useful in encouraging civility (Sennett as discussed in Smith, M. 1980 p.154). In conclusion, it appears that the psychic effects of city life on its residents are both positive and negative. On the one hand, it seems that the city dweller becomes tolerant and sophisticated. His or her sense of personal freedom is considerably heightened, due to the sheer size of the city. On the other hand, the metropolis reduces the quality of relationships with others. Feelings of Impersonality, indifference and antipathy increase, and a person's individuality is undermined and subordinated to the mass. A sense of isolation and anonymity can arise. Furthermore, the development of over protective environments such as zoned residential enclaves in which intense family life and personal relations dominate, stultifies human experience of the outside world. ...read more.

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