organizations in urban sociology

Michael McQuarrie and Nicole Marwell have a provocative article in the latest issue of City and Community about the need to bring more organizational theory into urban sociology. Naturally, I concur. They claim that “urbanists” don’t pay enough attention to the role of organizations in producing community and neighborhood phenomena. Too often organizations urbanists view organizations as just 1) reflections of local neighborhood effects (e.g., social integration),  2) as locations for neighborhood interaction, or 3) as vehicles in political class struggle. Urbanists, they say, haven’t properly theorized organizations’ capacities in creating local orders and linking individuals in a community to broader society. They refer to Giddens’s notion of structuration, making the case that organizations are the important bridges between social integration (at the local level) and systemic integration (at the societal level).

The connection we see between urban sociology, organizations sociology, and structuration is that we think organizations are key sites of urban structuration. They are locations of both systemic and social integration. Organizations are the medium through which systemic processes reach the street corner; they make state and market resources available, socialize individuals into a society beyond the neighborhood, and constitute social identities that have relevance beyond the neighborhood. At the same time, organizations are settings in which neighborhood social integration is produced in interaction. In churches, corner stores, coffee houses, schools, community centers, political clubs, and workplaces neighborhood residents interact to produce shared meanings, mutually intelligible practices, and identities all of which refer to and reproduce a shared experience of place.4 In this sense, neighborhoods are sources of innovation, creativity, and cultural meanings that have relevance for society-wide institutions. At the same time, resources that have society-wide meaning, such as money or votes, are essential for neighborhood residents no matter how specific the culture of the neighborhood is. People who work in and run organizations must grapple with the tension that this recursive process produces. In institutional terms, organizations must mediate the local and extra-local dimensions of their environment. Because of this, organizations are mediators of social and systemic integration and, therefore, instrumental in the process of urban structuration (pg. 257).

It’s interesting they frame it this way. In organizational theory “structuration” isn’t as resonant now as it once was. We don’t pay a great deal of attention to the connective role that organizations play between individuals and society.  As McQuarrie and Marwell note though, there was a time though when organizational sociologists were much more interested in community (see, for example, the work of my advisor Joe Galaskiewicz and the early research of my co-author Dave Whetten). More recently the interest in local community effects has reemerged through the work of younger scholars like Chris Marquis, and my esteemed co-blogger Sean Safford has brought organizational theory to the study of urban redevelopment. On the urban sociology side, Mario Small has conceptualized organizations as community brokers. It would be really great if urbanists and organizational scholars reinvigorated the conversation between the two fields. Perhaps the time is ripe for a boom in the study of organizations and urban communities.

Written by brayden king

September 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Posted in brayden, just theory

2 Responses

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  1. I am very glad to see that orgtheory has taken an interest in our article. Nothing would please Marwell and I more than a deepening discussion between organizations sociologists and urbanists. We do think the time is right and we do think that org theory and analysis will be necessary for a good understanding of contemporary cities and the transformations they are undergoing.

    Our hope is that this conversation will be as productive as the recent one between social movements scholars and organizations sociologists. If orgtheory contributors or readers have suggestions on how to advance this discussion we would love to hear from you. We are also interested in seeing any new work in this area. In the meantime, I will plug the urban orgs website maintained by Mario Small and Celeste Watkins-Hayes:



    Michael McQuarrie

    September 4, 2009 at 5:48 pm

  2. Hi Michael, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think the potential is there, and so it will be interesting to see what agenda-setting pieces come out in this area over the next few years.



    September 5, 2009 at 2:58 am

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