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I'd like to offer some perspectives on Wirth that are usually not emphasized. Wirth's assertions in his article "Urbanism as a Way of Life" were not meant to be seen as conclusive findings or facts. His goal was to develop hypotheses for social scientists to test. It is true that he started by taking as given "a limited number of identifying characteristics of the city" -- large population, density, and division of labor -- although he offered caveats even to this basic definition. Once establishing these, he sought to "indicate what consequences or further characteristics follow from them in light of general sociological theory and empirical research." From this, he wished to distill the "essential propositions comprising a theory of urbanism." [Louis Wirth, "Urbanism as a Way of Life," _American Journal of Sociology_, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jul., 1938), 8. ] Propositions are proposals, not proofs. Wirth wrote that some of his propositions could "be supported by a considerable body of already available research materials." (Ibid., 9) However, "others [might] be accepted as hypotheses for which a certain amount of presumptive evidence exists, but for which more ample and exact verification would be required." (Ibid., 9) Wirth also noted later that studies of the essence of urbanism needed to be complemented by studies of "rural life" to determine whether the features considered unique to cities were also found in the country. In a 1948 manuscript entitled "Rural-Urban Differences," published posthumously in 1956, and then again in 1964, Wirth wrote that, in "Urbanism as a Way of Life," he had "attempted to develop a series of interrelated propositions which could be distilled from the existing knowledge of the city based upon the postulates which this minimal definition of the city as a social fact suggests.....whatever we might discover about the city in this manner would manifestly have to be checked against what we know or could find out about human settlements which are not cities, i.e. against the country. ....[O]nly after such a comparison was made would we be able to say that we had selected the significant aspects of urban life which made the city a distinctive form of human association." [LouisWirth, "Rural-Urban Differences," in Albert J. Reiss, Jr., ed., ON CITIES AND SOCIAL LIFE: SELECTED PAPERS (U. of Chicago Press, 1965), 221-225, quoted material on 222; originally published in Elizabeth Wirth Marvick and Albert J. Reiss, Jr., ed., COMMUNITY LIFE AND SOCIAL POLICY (University of Chicago Press, 1956), 172-176.] Further, Wirth demonstrated his awareness of the sweeping changes in communications and transportation, and the impact these changes had on the nature of cities and other types of settlements. In "Rural-Urban Differences," he noted that "the fusion of the two [city and rural life]... is becoming an inescapable fact." Urbanism was "no longer synonymous with industrialism," and "ruralism" was no longer equivalent to "unmechanized labor. Since social contact is no longer intimately dependent upon personal relations, size of community and location are of less significance for the mode of life.." (Wirth, "Rural-Urban Differences," 222). Perhaps most startling to those who know Wirth only from "Urbanism as a Way of Life" and references to that article, the sociologist repudiated the major hypotheses of "Urbanism" in "Rural-Urban Differences." He began by chiding scholars for assuming that the assertions he made in "urbanism" were factual conclusions. He wrote that "set[ting] up ideal-typical polar concepts such as I have done, and many others before me have done," did not, in itself, "prove that city and country are fundamentally different." (Wirth, "Rural-Urban Differences," 223) He warned that scholars "should not mistak[e] the hypothetical characteristics attributed to the urban and the rural modes of life for established facts, as has often been done." The purpose of establishing such hypotheses was to encourage testing them "in the light of empirical evidence which we must assiduously gather." (Wirth, "Rural-Urban Differences," 222) Wirth also criticized "the mechanical and relatively unsophisticated manner in which we have identified city and country," including the reliance by scholars on others' data. He noted that, for purpose of data collection, government agencies had used "arbitrary definitions preferably based upon quantitative criteria" in the necessary task of classification. While this was not bad in itself, "we have fallen into the trap of regarding those arbitrary definitions as actual entities, corresponding to something that exists in social reality." (Wirth, "Rural-Urban Differences," 223) This was at a time when quantitative methods was emerging as the method of choice in sociology. Finally, Wirth revealed his assessment of the studies that had tested his propositions since the publication of "Urbanism as a Way of Life." He observed, "From a sampling of a number of studies, including my own, of the ways in which rural and urban people are supposed to differ, I have found that if we allow for each of these fundamental factors, virtually all of the differences between rural and urban behavior are accounted for without any resorting to the alleged urban and rural natural dissimilarity." (Wirth, "Rural-Urban Differences," 224). While this is the most important point to be made in this article, Wirth also speculated on how these findings should affect future research. He suggested that if his findings"should prove to be the experience of students generally, a new approach seems to be called for." Scholars should examine "how one mode of human association which may be closely related to a type of human settlement conditions behavior and problems." Such a query would "lead us to ask how numbers, density, and heterogeneity affect the relations between men. For such a purpose we might have to ignore the statistically defined categories of urban and rural and deal rather with degrees on a continuum." (Wirth, "Rural-Urban Differences, 224) For those of us who have admired the written work of Louis Wirth, it was his ability to develop original hypotheses from existing theory and empirical studies; his openness to change; and his highly complex view of society and social interactions that attracted us, I believe (this is apart from Wirth's service). Those who have a superficial knowledge of "Urbanism as a Way of Life" would do well to read it again, and to observe the length to which Wirth went to dismiss simplistic views of the city, and the underlying reasons the scholar had for developing a "sociological theory of urbanism" at that time. I'll address this last point in separate postings in which I also respond to Michael Smith's and Kenneth Jackson's replies to my earlier note. [For the full discussion, see http://www.h-net.org/logsearch/?phrase=Wirth&type=keyword&list=h-urban&hitlimit=25&field=EDSJ&nojg=on&smonth=00&syear=2011&emonth=11&eyear=2029&order=%40DPB .] Wendy Wendy Plotkin, Ph.D. H-Urban Editor-in-Chief http://www.h-net.org/~urban H-Urban E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (Click: mailto:email@example.com ) Please use for ALL mail to H-Urban, including postings, inquiries, and comments. H-Urban (http://www.h-net.org/~urban) is affiliated with the International Planning History Society (IPHS, at http://www.planninghistory.org ), the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH, at http://www.sacrph.org ),and the Urban History Association (UHA, at http://uha.udayton.edu ).