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?


Mark said...

I think choice plays a role once an individual reaches a certain stage. Numerous factors obviously exert pressure on social reproduction in regards to residence, career choice, and economic "success". However, once an individual reaches a certain level of success they may become empowered to choose their lifestlye. Look at the migration of successful executives to the perceived "ideal" neighborhoods and the growing trend of downshifting where consumers actively minimize the clutter in their lives by consuming less, downsizing homes, etc. Yet both of these trends require a certain level of economic capital and career mobility not afforded the majority of society.

umaysay said...

Even though I agree to Mark's opinion, I think that social researchers, in a sense, need to seek for overall generalization of human tendency to choose their places like in terms of statstical homogeniety. A certain level of social and economic status might enable people to choose more independently. However,in turn, such social status may affect people's choice because nowadays living place as well as working place seem to be symbolically distinguished. If some people want to be distinguished from others, they may choose some symbolically significant places based on their cultural capital.