Factorial Ecology As An Approach To Social Differentiation
The study of social differentiation is an important part in the work of a sociologist or a geographer. It is not only a tool that can be used to enforce timely government or state sponsored intervention but it will also inform on how the urban areas were structured with regards to the groupings of the general population. In this way one can design a much efficient zoning policy or know where exactly to put the basic government services like hospitals or police precincts.
It is not only the government and its various agencies that is interested to know how cities are structured socially, but businessmen, church leaders and others as well.
In the past decades starting at the turn of the 19th century the field of sociology and geography has been blessed with brilliant men who had laid the foundation for future forays into social grouping and urban studies. And seen below is the product of their relentless pursuit to finding out how man fashions out cities and urban centers from wilderness, jungles and savannas.
There are are at least three ways to study social differentiation in cities and other urban centers in the country. The first one developed by geographers was called “human ecology”. This tool of geography and sociology was formalized in the 1920’s and gained much acceptance in the 1950’s
Human ecology is an academic discipline that focuses more on the relationship between man and his environment. It also believes that this relationship is similar to how Darwinism view the world and the organisms thriving in it. Hence, the environment is the single most potent factor in the development of the human species and the urban homo sapiens has to adapt in order to excel or simply to survive.
The field of sociology and geography is much indebted to Ernest W. Burgess whose pioneering work allowed modern man to see urban development in a whole different light and therefore new insights and learning was now possible. His groundbreaking work was to divide the city into zones and was able to determine that the city seems to have a life of its own. This simply means that cities are changing and evolving. In his work he classified certain parts of the cities either as business districts, those in transition (industrial), working class residential (tenements), and commuter or sub-urban zones.
In how he sub-divided the city into the following zones we can see that people reacted to how the city was structured and therefore a huge number of the populace are living near the business district. Consequently those who are of low income also live near the centers of commerce while those well-off are moving farther away from the business districts and they represent a smaller proportion of the the whole population.
The “human ecology” approached has been criticized in recent years due to a more broader outlook and understanding of human nature and how he interacts with his environment. The flaw of the said approach to social differentiation is in its ability to explain why certain groups of people are banding together or why people move to this part of the city without the necessary connection to their proximity to business establishments. Its inherent weakness also shows that it does not follow the path set by a Darwinian model of development. In other words the developmental progress of cities according to this school of thought is much too ideal or too simple.
Another approach in studying social differentiation is called “social area analysis”. This method of studying differentiation veers away from the premise of the “human ecology”; that the people living in cities are segregated by the forces of the environment. The proponents of this theory claims that there is mounting evidence to show that people group together due to social status, familism and ethnicity.
This explains why the rich dwells in their gated enclaves and usually a considerable distance from the pollution at the center of the cities. It also explains the presence of ghettos , Chinatowns and Little Italy.
The problem with the social area analysis method is that it did not consider powerful forces like politics and economics that can play a role in changing urbanity.
The third and most recent approach to social differentiation is called “factorial ecology”. This system of segregation builds upon the two previously mentioned school of thought but this time it uses more variables aiding in a more refined separation of smaller areas that were studied.
Herein lies the strength of the “factorial approach” as compared to the “social area analysis” that seems to be limited to the social status, family types and ethnic groupings.
Factorial ecology uses the then limited view of the social area analysis approach and added the effects of education, occupation and many more variables.
Factorial ecology as a tool was made possible by availability of efficient computers and urban census data. These information where then processed in the computer together with the “factors” that works like indexes for proper groupings. The result of this procedure gave the sociologists an ability to distinguish separation in small areas of the city. Social area analysis will not be able to produce the same results since the variables used were limited and therefore it is much harder to see the distinct separation of the different layers of society.
Unlike the “human ecology” approach, “factorial ecology” was able to incorporate what others have missed, the effect of education and employment opportunities. This allowed the proponents to have a more comprehensive view of the whole urban landscape and how it was structured.
The other advantage of “factorial ecology” is to establish that in most parts of developing nations three major factors influenced social differentiation 1) socio-economic status 2) familism 3) ethnicity.
Familism is concern with the type of family one has; whether it is a household with children or single persons. Socio-economic status is a factor that combines income, education and occupation that is a major influence on how the rich are separated from the poor. Ethnicity is a measure as a result of migration or simply the separation of ethnic groups.
The factorial ecology approach leaves a lot to be desired. First of all the studies were made in the United States. Thus all the results and findings should not be used as a standard in analyzing cities in Europe or even those in the so called Third World Countries.
Furthermore, “factorial ecology” is very much descriptive and merely tells how society was differentiated but could not explain why. Also, it does not include other significant factors such as social, economic and political forces that can easily shape the structure of a city. In the present reality this is what is evident. Politics, economy and social factors are guiding humanity which path to take and it either beckons the dwellers to move in or out of a geographical area or for government to build or destroy something in a given area triggering a cycle of response.