Community and the Built Environment
Advances in telecommunication throughout the 20th-century led sociologists to proclaim that community had been “liberated” (in the words of Barry Wellman) beyond the geographic confines of the neighborhood. Since then, communities have often been conceptualized as abstract “networks” connecting people within virtual, as opposed to physical, settings. The rise of Facebook and other online social “networking” sites have only deepened this trend.
In recent years, however, sociologists from a variety of subfields have turned their attention to the role of spatial and material dynamics in social life. This “materialist turn” is an impetus for considering the extent to which communities continue to be influenced by their physical surroundings. Indeed, architects and urbanists have long understood the significant role of the built environment in the establishment and maintenance of community, from Jane Jacob’s ideas of the importance of mixed-use and walkability to Rem Koolhaus’ theory of the “culture of congestion”. Moreover, after decades of urban sprawl and segregation, architects increasingly see their mission as designing places that encourage social interaction and cohesion.
In order to bring sociological analysis to bear on this problem, we seek papers that explore the relationship between community and the built form. Possible topics include the role of the built environment in strengthening or weakening social cohesion, how architecture and design shape local cultures and community identity, or how communities adapt the existing built form to new social purposes (e.g. post-industrial revitalization). We welcome papers that are empirical or theoretical in focus, and qualitative or quantitative.