Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Social Evolution, Differentiation, or Individual Choice?
One key area of concurrence among Simmel, Burgess and Wirth is that their analyses all frame social change, that is the movement from the traditional, rural way of life to the modern, urban form, as essentially a linear, evolutionary and inevitable process that basically overrides individual choice. Likewise, each sees the urban way of life causing changes in personality and behavior that collectively add up to a new kind of society. Gans, however, in his discussion of urbanism and suburbanism, suggests that various forms of collective social behavior can co-exist in time and place and, moreover, that people may choose what mode they want to inhabit based on individual characteristics such as class and age. So the question is to what extent in modern society is an individual's way of life a matter of choice and to what is extent is that way of life pre-determined by larger forces and trends--historical, economic, social and cultural--that are beyond individual control. Put another way, can an individual choose to live a more "traditional" way of life in contemporary society or is that just a self-deception?