Louis Wirth Criticism - Essay

R. D. McKenzie (essay date 1929)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Gold Coast and the Slum and The Ghetto, in The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. XXXV, No. 3, November, 1929, pp. 486-87.

[In the following essay, McKenzie reviews The Ghetto along with another study of urbanism and ethnicity, Harvey W. Zorbaugh's The Gold Coast and the Slum.]

These two products from the University of Chicago [The Gold Coast and the Slum by Harvey W. Zorbaugh and The Ghetto by Wirth] are essentially studies of urban segregation. Zorbaugh approaches the subject from the standpoint of place. He analyzes the changing forms of human segregation within a specific region—the Near North Side of Chicago, an area a mile and a half long and a mile wide, in which live about ninety thousand people. Wirth, on the other hand, focuses his attention on the communal habits of a people, the Jews, and studies the ghetto in its natural development and various manifestations throughout Europe and America.

Zorbaugh's book is a graphic and intimate account of life among the most divergent groups which the processes of city growth have placed side by side in urban structure. Facing the lake is the "Gold Coast," girdled on the west by the "world of furnished rooms," which fades into the "rooming house area" and finally declines into a great "slum" section lying farther west. By direct observation, personal interviews, the use of documents, maps, and some statistical data, the author has succeeded in painting a very vivid picture of life in its contrasts and extremes in this section of Chicago. Dr. Zorbaugh, however, writes from the standpoint of a reporter rather than of a scientist. In his desire for descriptive effect he frequently violates the principles of scientific caution. Too often he yields to the temptation to generalize his illustrations and to explain uncommon behavior by ready-made formula.

For instance, after the quotation "One no longer is born to social position; one achieves social position by playing the social game," it adds nothing but rhythm to generalize, "And this is as true of the society of...

(The entire section is 886 words.)

William L. Kolb (essay date 1956)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Community Life and Social Policy, in American Sociological Review, Vol. 21, No. 6, December, 1956, pp. 788-89.

[In the following essay, a review of Community Life and Social Policy, Kolb discusses Wirth's contributions to sociology within the context of a larger tradition.]

Somewhere in the recent literature it is written that the day of the system-builder in sociology is over. Yet this is true only in the sense that the builder of the "personal" system is no more. The task of testing, broadening, and deepening the theoretical tradition we have inherited goes on, not in isolation from research but in interactive relationship with it....

(The entire section is 1093 words.)

Amitai Etzioni (essay date 1959)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Ghetto— A Re-Evaluation," in Social Forces, Vol. 37, No. 3, March, 1959, pp. 255-62.

[In the following essay, occasioned by the republication of The Ghetto more than a quarter-century after its original release, Etzioni critiques the seminal work.]

The republication of The Ghetto by Louis Wirth1 seems to be an appropriate occasion for a re-evaluation2 of his thesis. It is of importance to state at the very beginning of this discussion that, although some concepts and conclusions of Wirth will be sharply criticized, in general this is one of the most important studies of the sociology of the Jews, a much...

(The entire section is 5751 words.)

Joan Aldous (essay date 1962)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Urbanization, the Extended Family, and Kinship Ties in West Africa," in Social Forces, Vol. 41, No. 1, October, 1962, pp. 6-12.

[In the following essay, Aldous, applying methodology pioneered by Wirth, examines the effects of urbanization on family systems in parts of West Africa.]

The effect of urbanization upon extended family relations has been extensively investigated within the last 10 years. The starting point for many of these studies has been Wirth's analysis of urbanism as a way of life written in 1938. According to Wirth, the city is a social organization that substitutes secondary for primary group relationships. Though dependent on more people for...

(The entire section is 3716 words.)

Albert J. Reiss, Jr. (essay date 1964)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Introduction: Sociology as a Discipline," in On Cities and Social Life, by Louis Wirth, The University of Chicago Press, 1964, pp. ix-xxx.

[In the following essay, an editor's introduction to Wirth's selected papers, Reiss provides an overview of Wirth's sociological ideas, and discusses these within the framework of the discipline as a whole.]

Sociology, for Louis Wirth, is a more or less organized body of knowledge about human behavior—"What is true of human behavior by virtue of the fact that always and everywhere men live a group existence?" Like others from the "Chicago school" of sociology, he held that the discipline of sociology consists of three...

(The entire section is 7609 words.)

Earl Smith (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Louis Wirth and the Chicago School of Urban Sociology: An Assessment and Critique," in Humanity and Society, Vol. 9, No. 1, February, 1985, pp. 1-12.

[In the following essay, Smith delineates the particulars of the Chicago School of Sociology and Wirth 's model of the city, then discusses these in light of later perspectives in urban studies.]

The city as a built form can .. . be regarded as a set of objects arranged according to some pattern in space. But there are few who would argue that cities are just that.

—David Harvey
Social Justice and the City


(The entire section is 5574 words.)

Zane L. Miller (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pluralism, Chicago School Style: Louis Wirth, the Ghetto, the City, and 'Integration'," in Journal of Urban History, Vol. 18, No. 3, May, 1992, pp. 251-79.

[In the following essay, Miller provides an overview of Wirth's career with special attention to the Chicago School and the influence of Karl Mannheim, and divides Wirth's sociology work into two distinct phases.]

Dick Wade, in 1989, reprimanded me for missing a convention session on the theoretical roots of the "new" urban history, then made his case about the roots of the "old" urban history. He located them in sociology, rather than economics or geography, and specifically in the Chicago school sociology...

(The entire section is 12582 words.)