- Louis Wirth
Louis Wirth was born in the small village of Gemünden im
Hunsrück, Germany. He was one of seven children born to Rosalie Lorig and Joseph Wirth. Gemünden was a pastoral community, and Joseph Wirth earned a living as a cattle dealer. At the time Louis left Gemünden to live with his older sister at his uncle's home in Omaha, Nebraskain 1911, Gemünden had 900 inhabitants, 20 percent of whom were Jewish. The town was locally known as “Little-Jerusalem”. Both of his parents were active in their religious community and emigrated in 1936 to the USA. Soon after arriving in the United States, Louis met and married Mary Bolton. The couple had two daughters.
Wirth studied in the
United Statesand became a leading figure in Chicago School Sociology. His interests included city life, minority groupbehaviour and mass mediaand he is recognised as one of the leading urban sociologists. Wirth's major contribution to social theory of urban space was a classic essay "Urbanism as a Way of Life", published in the American Journal of Sociologyin 1938.
His research was concerned with how
Jewish immigrantsadjusted to life in urban America, as well as the distinct social processes of city life. Wirth was a strong supporter of applied sociology, taking the knowledge offered by his discipline and using it to solve real social problems.
Wirth writes that
urbanismis a form of social organisation that is harmful to culture, Wirth details the cityas a "“Substitution of secondary for primary contacts, the weakening of bonds of kinship, the declining social significance of the family, the disappearance of neighbourhood and the undermining of traditional basis of social solidarity”". [Wirth, Louis (1938) "Urbanism as a way of life"] Wirth was concerned with the effects of the cityupon familyunity, and he believed urbanisationleads to a ‘low and declining urban reproductionrates … families are smaller and more frequently without children than in the country’. Wirth continues, marriagetends to be postponed, and the proportion of single people is growing leading to isolationand less interaction.
But Wirth also stressed the positive effects of
citylife:„the beginning of what is distinctively modern in our civilizationis best signalized by the growth of great cities“ [Wirth, Louis (1938) "Urbanism as a way of life"] ; „metropolitan civilizationis without question the best civilization that human beings have ever devised“ [The City. (The City as a Symbol of Civilization.); The Papers of Louis Wirth, The Joseph Regenstein Library, Special Collections/University of Chicago, Box: 39, Folder: 6] ; „the city everywhere has been the center of freedom and toleration, the home of progress, of invention, of science, of rationality“ [Life in the City. In: Wirth 1956: p. 206-217] or: „the historyof civilizationcan be written in terms of the historyof cities“. [Wirth, Louis (1940): The Urban Society and Civilization. In: Wirth, Louis (ed.), Eleven Twenty Six]
The profound social understanding of
minority groupsthat Wirth obtained first-hand as an immigrant Jewin America, can equally be applied to understanding the problems of other minority groupsin society, such as ethnic minorities, the disabled, homosexuals, womenand the elderly, all of whom have also suffered, and/or continue to suffer prejudice, discriminationand disenfranchisementfrom the more numerically dominant members of a host society. It is in this respect that Wirth's path-breaking and insightful work still amply rewards detailed study even today, some seventy years after his original investigations.
A good example of Wirth's work, which includes a comprehensive
bibliography, is "On Cities and Social Life", published in 1964.
*(1936): Preface to „Ideology and Utopia“, by
Karl Mannheim. In:Shils, E.;Wirth, L. (ed.), Ideology and Utopia, by Karl Mannheim, NY, p. XIII-XXXI
*(1936): Types of Nationalism. In: AJS, Vol. 41, no.6, May, p. 723-737
*(1937): The Urban Mode of Life. In: New Horizons in Planning. Chicago, p. 23-30
*(1938): Urbanism As A Way of Life. in: AJS 44, p. 1-24
*(1939): Social Interaction: The Problem of the Individual and the Group. In: AJS, Vol. 44, May, p. 965-979
*(1940): Ideological Aspects of Social Disorganization. In: American Sociological Review, Vol. 5, no.4, p. 472-482
*(1940): The Urban Society and Civilization. In: Wirth, Louis (ed.), Eleven Twenty Six: A Decade of Social Science Research, p. 51-63
*(1941): Morale and Minority Groups. In: AJS, Vol. 47, no.3, November, p. 415-433
*(1941): The Present Position of Minorities in the United States. In: Studies in Political Science and Sociology. Philadelphia, p. 137-156
*(1944): Race and Public Policy. In: Scientific Monthly, Vol. 58, April, p. 302-312
*(1945): Group Tension and Mass Democracy. In: American Scholar, Vol. 14, No.2, p. 231-235
*(1945): Human Ecology. In: AJS, Vol. 50, no.6, May, p. 483-488
*(1945): The Problem of Minority Groups. In: Linton, Ralph (ed.), The Science of Man in the World Crisis, New York; p. 347-372
*(1946): A Sociologist Looks at the Community. In: Wirth, Louis; et.al. (ed.), Community Planning for Peacetime Living. Stanford, Calif.: p. 3-89
*(1947): American Sociology 1915 - 1947. In: AJS. Index to Volumes 1-52, 1895-1947, Chicago; p. 273-281
*(1947): Ideas and Ideals as Sources of Power in Modern World. In:Bryson,L. et.al. (ed.), Conflicts of Power in Modern Culture. NY, p. 499-508
*(1948): Consensus and Mass Communication. In: American Sociological Review Vol. 13, no.1, February, p. 1-15
*(1948): World Community, World Society, and World Government. In: Wright, Quincy (ed.), The World Community, Chicago; p. 9-20
*(1951): The Significance of Sociology. In: International Social Science Bulletin (UNESCO), Vol. 3 , no.2, Summer, p. 197-202
*(1956): Community Life and Social Policy. Wirth Marvik, E./Reiss, A. J. (ed.), Chicago/London
*(1964): On Cities and Social Life. Reiss, A. J. (ed.), Chicago/London
*Reiss, Albert J.jr. (1964): "Introduction", Sociology as a Discipline. In: Wirth, Louis (1964)
*Salerno, Roger Allen (1987): Louis Wirth: A Bio-Bibliography. New York, Westport, London
*Vortkamp, Wolfgang (2002): Partizipation und soziale Integration in heterogenen Gesellschaften. Louis Wirths Konzeption sozialer Organisation in der Tradition der Chicagoer Schule, Opladen ISBN 3-8100-3069-4
*German Wikipedia: Louis Wirth
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