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The City in Cultural Context

John Mercer

Routledge, December 1984

The City in Cultural Context cover

The study of the city in cultural context implies two things. First, networks of practices and ideas exist that are drawn from the shared experiences and histories of social groups. Secondly, these practices and ideas can be invoked to account for specific patterns of urban growth and urban form. Such a study does not imply acceptance of a questionable and now largely discredited concept of 'urban culture' (Benet 1963). 

That concept would have a universal rural-urban continuum (defined by population density) provide the essential kernal of explanation for all urban phenomena. Instead, consideration of the city in cultural context implies an emphasis on the practices and ideas that arise from collective and individual experiences, and that are constitutive of urban life and form. The practices and ideas are not themselves uniquely urban but derive from the social, economic, and political situations that have shaped group and individual existence. In turn, the practices, and ideas - in short, "culture,”- have shaped urban worlds.

An enduring Western conceit in urban studies has been that all contemporary cities can be explained by reference to a 'rational' economic calculus of profit and loss for the individual or group. This explanation itself comes out of a contemporary Western cultural context (Poggi 1972, p. 116). Applied to other places and times, it improperly projects recent Western experiences on to other contexts, accounting in an invalid, a priori fashion for urbanization and urban life. The basic premise of this book is that culture counts.