Skip to main content

Unit information: Understanding Urban Society in 2014/15

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Understanding Urban Society
Unit code SPOL30023
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Bridge
Open unit status Open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit focuses primarily on how cities develop and change, how scholars have theorised and explained these changes, and how urban studies is in many ways the study of the obvious - but looking deep below the surface. What does it mean when you walk past an abandoned house, a gentrified terrace, a drop-in centre for the homeless, a waterfront loft apartment, a red-light district, a group of people sipping latte outside yet another Starbucks? While urbanisation is of course a global phenomenon, in this unit we will zoom in on Western cities, with particular reference to Europe and North America and East Asia. Urban studies is at root an interdisciplinary field of inquiry (indeed, this is what makes it so fascinating and vibrant), and readings will be drawn from, among other subjects, sociology, political economy, anthropology, psychology and philosophy. The course begins by introducing the richness and diversity of urban theory, before grounding those theories in topics that show the numerous ways in which cities are visualised, experienced and understood, how the spaces within them are used and sometimes contested, and how they are governed. In short, this unit is as much about key issues in cities as it is about the contemporary analysis of cities.

Key topics included in this unit are: theories of urban change (Chicago School, urban Marxism, theories of difference) cities and globalisation; cities and structures of housing provision; housing and social exclusion; neighbourhood change and gentrification; the public realm of cities; social movements, civic participation and urban governance. The aims of the unit are:

  • To introduce students to theoretical interpretations of the urban process; the social structure of cities; urban life and urban problems; and urban governance and politics.
  • To facilitate an understanding of the application of theoretical and policy approaches to current urban problems both nationally and internationally.

Reading and References

  • Butler, T. and Watt, P. (2007) Understanding Social Inequality (London: Sage).
  • Pacione, M. (2005) Urban Geography: A Global Perspective (2nd edition) (London: Routledge).
  • Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (eds) (2011) The New Blackwell Companion to the City (Oxford: Blackwell).
  • Chen, Xiangming, Orum A, Paulsen K (2012) Introduction to Cities Wiley Blackwell
  • LeGates, R. and Stout, F. (eds) (2003) The City Reader (3rd edition) (London: Routledge).
  • Badcock, B. (2002) Making Sense of Cities (London: Arnold)