Logan, J.R. and Molotch, H.L. (2007). The Social Construction of Cities (Ch.1); Places as Commodities (Ch.2); The City as a Growth Machine (Ch.3). In _Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place_. 20th anniversary ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

John Logan, PhD Sociology from UC Berkeley, is Professor of Sociology at Brown University. Prior to this post he was Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Public Administration at the University of Albany, SUNY; Director of the Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research; and Director of the Urban China Research Network. His current research includes the sociospatial implications of Hurricane Katrina; immigrant routes to political incorporation; immigration, ethnicity, and the family in the early 20th century; group boundaries in early 20th century New York and Chicago.

Harvey Molotch, PhD Sociology from the University of Chicago, is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, Sociology at New York University. His areas of interest include: urban development and political economy; the sociology of architecture, design, and consumption; environmental degradation; and mechanisms of interactional inequalities.

The market, just like space, is a social construction. Logan and Molotch seek to understand the tension between “use and exchange value in cities” (2). Component to this is a move away from the neoclassical economist and the Marxian determinist perspectives, and toward an “authentic urban sociology” (49). For the former, its public choice model “trivializes” (42) sociospatial inequalities by chalking them up to matters of choice, and the latter’s missing explorations into human ecology and community studies.

“Places are not simply affected by the institutional maneuvers surrounding them. Places are those machinations” (43).

The city is the Molotch’s (1976) “growth machine,” the “apparatus of interlocking progrowth associations and governmental units” (32) that by and large gets to ignore questions of production (i.e. occupational hazards), consequent use of manufactured goods (e.g. cigarettes), and externalities (e.g. environmental pollution). Agents of the growth machine fight against regulation and while they might quibble about the distribution details,

“…virtually all place entrepreneurs and their growth machine associates, regardless of geographical or social location, easily agree on the issue of growth itself.

They unite behind a doctrine of value-free development–the notion that free markets alone should determine land use…. Just as markets in neoclassical reasoning are, in general, the only legitimate mechanisms for choosing what is to be produced (with not need for collective evaluation), so markets should also be the invisible hand that determines where and how production should occur. When the two value-free doctrines are joined at the local level, communities forfeit control over both the content and location of production” (32-33).

Cities with stronger elite communities have higher growth rates because these elites stimulate growth and the strong growth attracts/keeps the elites. However, capitalists tend to have a different attachment to place than the middle and working classes. They are less emotional overall because their objective is profitability, they are more mobile than residents (see suburban migration), and their general treatment of places “is less fragile” (22) because they can better adapt to nuisance. Key growth machine players include: politicians, local media, utilities; auxiliary players are universities, cultural destinations, professional sports teams. Also, organized labor, self-employed professionals and small retailers, and corporate capitalists.

There are two systems of hierarchy in cities, then: social and geographical. The reification of these inequalities are pushed by two kinds of politics (Edelman, 1964): the rentier-controlled news that sets and gets agendas, and the back-room government agreements that determine service/goods provision. As for community groups, some very anti-growth machine actors are every bit as “racist and reactionary, but they do not therefore cease to be urban” (38).


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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Research Fields


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