PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2009, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (1): 93-102.doi: 10.11820/dlkxjz.2009.01.013

• Original Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

A Review of the Urban Social Structure and Its Development in Western Countries

XU Di1,2, ZHU Xigang1, LI Wei2   

  1. 1. School of Geographic and Oceanographic Sciences of Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China;
    2. School of Geographic Sciences of Arizona State University, Tempe, 85287, U.S.A.
  • Received:2008-06-01 Revised:2008-12-01 Online:2009-01-24 Published:2009-01-24


In this paper we review the nearly 60 years process of urban social areas structure research in Western countries with the eye of the factorial ecology. We straighten out the whole context of its development stages and characteristics, and think these valuable experiences are helpful to the contemporary China's urban geography studies. The nearly 60 years process of urban social areas structure research can be divided into four phases: the first stage is that social areas concept was advanced and its research paradigm developed in 1950~1960; the second is many empirical cases accumulation stage in the 1960s to the late 1970s; in the third phase from the 1980s to the late 1990s, the scholars paid attention to the comparison and summary from the kinds of cases; and the fourth is diversified development stage since the late 1990s. Urban socio-spatial structure in Western countries has been extensively analyzed since the 1950s. Shevky and Bell (1949) initiated social area analysis in the study of Los Angeles and San Francisco. In China, there have been many studies of the social structure of major cities using the Fifth National Population Census data at the subdistrict (jiedao) level recently. Chinese scholars carried out research in the cities of Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanchang and so on, but the research fruits of urban social areas on China's city are rather limited. Finally, this research puts forward some suggestions on the development and study of urban social geography in China. Compared with the numerous case studies based on factorial ecology in Western countries, our urban social structure research should focus more on urban social analysis case studies, fortunately the Fifth National Population Census data is a good available research material to be used. Many comparable Chinese urban case studies based on factorial ecology would be helpful to summing up the characteristics of Chinese urban internal structure and comparing with the Western classic models. At the same time, the spatiotemporal process analysis must be emphasized on these case studies, we could use some years of the National Population Census for instance the Third and the Fourth National Population Census data to rebuild the transformation of urban social areas after the reform and opening-up in the 1980s. Chinese urban social structure studies should be extended. The reason and mechanism of urban social structure and its process in China are needed to go further to excavate. The authors suggest that Chinese urban researchers should combine the qualitative analysis with the quantitative analysis, use the result of the urban factorial ecology, summarize the characteristics of Chinese urban social structure, compare with the urban social structure in the western countries, and analyse the differences and resemblances of each other.

Key words: factorial ecology, spatial structure, urban social area