City of Dreams: Social Theory and the Urban Experience


230 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-17-603454-4
DDC 307.7'6





Reviewed by Andrew Molloy

Andrew Molloy is a professor of Political Science at Concordia
University in Montreal.


“Of all the changes that nineteenth-century capitalism introduced into
the world of Western society, the rise of the modern industrial
metropolis involved the most profound alterations in the daily
experiences of human beings.” With this introductory comment, Chorney
sets out to demonstrate that what a lot of important sociologists,
philosophers, literary critics, and political writers have had in common
over the past 150 years “was their response to the enormous social,
economic and political changes that the industrial metropolis introduced
into modern society.”

The city, Chorney explains with apt references to history, is a conduit
for the trends that have marked the change from overt class
consciousness to mass societies supposedly united by the canons of
relative equality, rationality, truth, evidence, reason, and logic.
These canons can, however, be interpreted as just as much a part of the
dogmatic, superstitious, religious, mystical, power-laden tradition as
the older city cultures they were used to attack. This dialectic is made
quite clear through Chorney’s examination of such writers as Ferdinand
Tonnies, Georg Simmel, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Georg Lukacs, Karl
Marx, and Walter Benjamin. While each of these notable thinkers
“carved up” the world in a different way, the commonality of city
life affected them profoundly.

Chorney intends this text to be a primer on urban public policy; he
warns that the class nature of our society may be re-emerging as a
result of widespread poverty and a general decline in the quality of
daily life. He attributes this phenomenon to a prevailing conservative
economic doctrine that champions the economic, social, and political
power of the few over the many. Arguing for a “pragmatic and liberal
non-Marxist social democracy,” Chorney also criticizes movements in
political and social theory that have tried to argue that we live in a
postmodern, posthistorical, postcontemporary world. He contends that
these movements are anything but radical departures full of fresh
insights and unique interpretations.

I would recommend this important book to specific and general audiences
interested in being entertained as well as informed, because Chorney
does write well. He wears his learning lightly.


Chorney, Harold., “City of Dreams: Social Theory and the Urban Experience,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 25, 2024,