Over the course of time, man has evolved from a hunting and food gathering nomad into a settled civilised form of existence. The culmination of this process of evolution is visible in the form of high-functioning, well developed compact settlements of humans; cities. Whether or not, these cities are a reflection of the important characteristics of the society as a whole, is up for discussion.
On an individual level, I agree with the statement that to understand the most important characteristics of the society, one must study its major cities; to quite an extent. It is in these clusters of civilisation, that ideas from all around converge, merge and develop into something better (or worse), but not very different, from all the originals. In turn, it is these smaller units that end up driving progress and change throughout the society. To understand how the society works as a whole, it is important that we first understand how these harbingers of growth and development work.
The issue can be interpreted into two seperate threads for the purposes of this discussion. Firstly, we try to understand whether the major cities are an ample enough reflection of the society as a whole. Secondly, how importnat their functioning is to understand the functioning of the society. At this point it becomes apparent that depending on these two conditions, we are in agreement with the statement in question, even if only the second condition holds, and the first one doesn’t.
In trying to understand a society, we focus on some key factors that shape its structure and functioning; which vary from the hierarchy in its sub divisions, the lifestyles and living standards of its members, the customs they follow, the prejudices they adhere to, and the general beliefs on which they all agree.
Most societies and by analogy their cities function only by virtue of a harmonious co existence of several levels or sub classes in them. When considering the former we are likely to divide it into the working class, the business class, the ruling class, etc. Even when condensed into the smaller scale of a city, these divisions or partitions exist, and their existence is not a coincidence but an intentional attempt to maintain the structure of the society. This ensures a homogeniety in the governance and functioning of the organisation. Thus the hierarchy in a society and the sub divisions in it, whether on an economic level, or geographical, or political, or even on the basis of birth in some cases, are very clearly reflected in the cities. It can be termed as a basic human instinct to flock together in small groups the same way whether on a small or a large scale.
There will be some in a city who will be unemployed and dependent on other sections of the populous, there will be some who will be invested in some form of commerce, there will be some invested in providing labour to the other industries, some caretakers of law and order and some ordinary citizens. Now, this will not paint the exact picture of the society as a whole but the general divide between different classes, the level of prosperity of each group, the level of consensus in each group about various issues, will be very similar to what would be the case if one were to analyse the population of the entire society as a whole.
The essential link between a city in particular and the society in general is its population. The people in both cases are the same. The difference however is that the people in cities are a lot more well to do than those in the rest of the population, which goes on to say that the important characteristics of the economic standards and habits of the complete society will not be reflected. In fact, in a city, economies are usually more service dependent, rather than manufacturing dependent in smaller cities and agriculture or home industry dependent in the villages and small towns. If one were to only study the major cities two very important aspects of the economic pathway of the society would get overlooked, and in this case, they will not prove to be sufficient enough for study of all important characteristics.
This very reasoning, can also be applied to the general culture and customs of the people. These are heavily dependent on the economic status of the people, and because of the wide gap between economic strengths of the people residing in major cities to those in othe sections, the rituals customs and practices will be different. Even the social evils in a particular area will be different. While there might not be many incidents of dowry in the cities, they shall be prevalant in the villages, and the exact opposite might hold true for issues like women empowerment.
Thus we see that while the major relations and divisions between various sections of the society can be easily derived upon from a study of the major cities, a large amount of information regarding culture and economics might get overlooked if only the major cities were studied. Thus we see that major cities are not a very satisfactory representation of the society on the whole.
Next however, we come to the more important section, i.e. the impotance of cities to the overall working of the societal organization. In this direction we shall find that the cities are integral to growth of the society, and therefore their study is extremely important to understand the functioning of the society.
It is in the cities that new ideas are experimented, lessons are learned and then implemented into other parts of the community. Cities are the gateway, to the outside world, and it is through them that all people are exposed to what is happening outside of their community. Cities are the harbingers of change, and unless we can understand how cities function, we cannot hope to be able to learn about the society. Cities are more advanced than the rest in terms of science and technology, and this gives an opportunity to the people to reveal their more fundamental desires, aspirations, and tendencies. The people can be more easily understood, in cities because here they are far less hindered by the political, economic and technological restrictions. This is integral to an understanding of the society, which clearly establishes the importance of cities to this end.
To further clarify these claims we take the example of the Indian society. If one were to focus only on the villages, they would be hugely misled, because a large population resides in the cities, some of whom do not have a lot of connections to the villages and some none at all. What this implies is that the influence of these sections will get inadvertently overlooked. The same would not happen were we to study the cities, because villages and villagers will form a part of the community in the city and thus their impact will get considered. A lot of things that happen in villages are now obsolete in a major section of Indian society. The same can be said about the cities, that a lot of what happens in cities does not in the rest of the society, but what does happen can not be ignored as it is an important influence for the rest of the community.
Much of the effects of the opening of the world to technological marvels like the internet and globalisation are first felt in the cities, which makes them more important than the rest of the sections. The effect of these slowly seeps from the cities to the villages, hence the importance of the cities. Simple and ordinary changes like those in dressing trends, cuisine styles, even furniture and architecture styles first emerge in cities and then are adopted into the rest of the society. This is because of the openness of these cities to all kinds of influences, and the unique characteristic that cities allow a confluence of ideas from different sections whereas it is not encouraged in villages. While cities are not all there is to a society, they are an unignorable part of the societal structure.
The reasoning here is that while a study of the cities is not enough to understand the working of the society, it is an essential aspect and one cannot hope to paint the whole picture without studying the major cities. Therefore, one must study the major cities to understand the society in totality.