WPS No.21 | Jones, G.A. & Rodgers, D. (2016) | Anthropology and the city: Standing on the shoulders of giants?
It has become increasingly commonplace to note that the past decade has witnessed a proliferation of anthropological studies dealing holistically with the dynamics of cities and city-living, to the extent that the current moment is considered to represent something of an epistemological ‘flourishing’ within anthropology, particularly in relation to the benchmark of the discipline’s historical urban mainstay, the neighbourhood ethnography. Studies explicitly offering a window onto the broader nature of urban contexts are not necessarily new, however, and indeed, were arguably the basis upon which urban anthropology originally emerged as an identifiable sub-discipline before subsequently taking a more particularistic turn.
This article offers a re-appraisal of the origins and evolution of holistic urban anthropological approaches, explaining how, why, and in what context these coalesced during the first quarter of the 20th century, as well as offering an explanation for the ensuing rise of more parochial approaches to city life. It does so based on an alternative intellectual history of the famous Chicago School of Sociology (CSS), in particular highlighting the epistemological debt contemporary anthropological studies implicitly owe to the CSS, as well as the enduring methodological lessons that the urban studies it inspired potentially continue to offer for anthropology.