Urban Tribes

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The most casual form of Neo-Tribalism is the urban tribe, a term first coined in 1985 by French sociologist Michel Maffesoli in Le temps des tribus: le déclin de l'individualisme dans les sociétés postmodernes. According to Maffesoli, urban tribes are microgroups of people who share common interests in metropolitan areas. The members of these relatively small groups tend to have similar worldviews, dress styles and behavioral patterns. Their social interactions are largely informal and emotionally-laden, which stands in sharp contrast to the formalized Machiavellian constructs of corporate culture. The term was expanded upon by author Ethan Watters in Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment as “an intricate community of young people who live and work together in various combinations, form regular rituals, and provide the support of an extended family.”

The premise of Watters' book was to explore the “tight-knit groups of friends [that] fill the increasingly wide stretch between college and married life” in the social phenomenon he calls “never-marrieds”—unmarried urbanites in their 30s and beyond. The urban tribe is one of the outcroppings of the so-called “Creative Class”, the class of young, mobile, educated professionals--first identified by sociologist Richard Florida in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class--who agglomerate in major urban centers where social, cultural and economic opportunities exist in greater numbers. Traditionally, urban tribes were commonly found in the gay and lesbian community, where members often find themselves estranged from their birth families and communities.

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Author: Charles Shaw