Since many years the Urban Sociology has been one of the main fields of interests among sociologists. That is not casual. The interest results from the conviction that cities focus most of the social processes connected with other changes of the contemporary world. Those processes are often analyzed in the context of social modernization but this category doesn’t seem to be sufficient enough. It is too one-sided, too general and above all too ideological to explain phenomenon that it attempts to describe. First of all the changes that we talk about here rarely demonstrate unambiguous direction – at the same time we may observe examples of unusual growth and success, and of spectacular decline of cities. In many concrete examples we deal with processes that change urban centers that have been until recently blooming into places that are stigmatized by degradation and devalorization of social, economical and geographical environment.

Description of those changes – strongly correlated with macro-social and economic processes – also results from influence of immanent factors like the level of infrastructure development, cultural conditions, character of the resources like the wealth of citizens or their qualifications. The last component seems to be extremely important especially when we perceive a city as a kind of social platform where innovations generate. Such point of view developed inter alia by the social geography gives basis to grasp a kind of relations between the space and the social structure, between the informational infrastructure and the changes of  managing and consumption models. Those changes which aren’t linear somehow challenge modernistic point of view. Polish sociology noticed that different phases of the capitalist development may be coetaneous. It can be seen not only through dominant  logic of leading economic entities but also in the lousy condition of some roads and wideness and comfort of others, range of communication nets, number of freely available nurseries, libraries etc. Possibilities of urban development are also connected with the use they make of their position within system-world that is usually related to the central position within region or country. This second possibility seems to be less obvious and less interesting and describes the changes that undermine nation-state position and its role in control of processes that occur at their area. It seems that more and more processes depend on “subjective” valorization of space which is a source of the investment strategies’ construction of the great corporations.

Such conditions gives an access to the resources but also some advantages of the “brain drain” and the “wallet drain” – because it’s worth to live in the place where we have an easy access to the information and above all where the decisions are being made.

To recapitulate – the changes that occur in contemporary cities determine two processes which are dominate as areas of our interest.  The first deals with revitalization of cities – that is a complex of actions which aim at the elimination of negative consequences of the break down which affected the modern industry, the selective growth of the service sector or changing one dominant industry into another. The second deals with consequences of systemic transition where ever we can talk about those who had won and who had lost because of those processes. Polish sociology gives us a useful term – transgresive interests. They are set of goals that we recognize as profitable (in opposition to values which we define as aims recognized as right).

Both of those processes are closely connected and strongly influence the quality of life of cities’ citizens in our part of Europe. Those issues seem to be affected by subjectivity and social activity which aims at changing social environment of subjects. That’s why we ask a  somehow fundamental question ­– “Social activity in the city. Awakening, stagnation or fall?”. Although the answer to such a question is of course complex we seek the conditions like the mode of participation or the requirements of efficiency in the decision making which would help the civil society to develop freely.

The next issue that we would like to point is a iconography of the city or more precisely records of the social differences which are imprinted in cities’ landscapes in two ways. First, had been “written” as created by “invisible animators”. We tend to penetrate social context of the “iconography of the city” (street art, advertisements, architecture, street stickers etc), its sources – most of all those of protest and social conflict which was so suggestively described by Alain Touraine. And of course, the other side, we should also remember about the actions which aren’t strategies of protest but rather ways of the appropriation of space which isn’t public any more and became a “no-man’s-land”. Second, discuss about esthetics, treat city as an artefact, area of communication, discussion and deliberation.

Proper description of the city needs an adequate social theory. Our point of reference is one of the most important theoretical works written on the subject by Manuel Castells who  dealt with “the Urban question”. But the question now is how things have changed since that time? Do we – sociologists – have adequate tools to capture these changes and explain the processes that we describe?


We would like to invite all who are interested in these issues to discussion.


Organization Committee of the Workshop