The Sociological Imagination: Conceptual Foundations for the Urban Planning and Design Professions

What does it mean to plan and design for people?  In what ways are built environments and social relationships shaped by one another? And how is the production of space related to notions of community and identity, questions of power, and mechanisms of social and spatial control from either “above” or “below?” In attempting to answer these questions (and more), this course will introduce graduate students to a set of core writings in the field of urban sociology. Topics include the changing nature of cities, how such transformations relate to larger societal dynamics, and the role that racism, inequality, political power, economic growth, and socio-spatial change play in connecting the built environment to the human experience. We will examine key theoretical paradigms that have constituted the field since its founding, assess how and why they have changed over time, and discuss the implications of these paradigmatic shifts for urban scholarship as well as urban design and planning practice. The aim is to educate students about the changing character of the city and the urban experience— including the larger social, political, and economic dynamics of urban change as well as the more grounded physicality of urban infrastructure—so as to provide a more nuanced understanding of the contemporary and historical context in which planning practices and design objectives have been developed and could be applied.

The course is open to students in all programs of the school. However, as a seminar it will involve intensive discussions of assigned readings. Students will be encouraged to discuss how the theoretical and practical concerns that have preoccupied urban sociologists can be applied to their individual research interests (at both the MA and PhD level). Final grades will be based on both in-class participation and written assignments.