BELONGING IN AMERICA: Reading Between the Lines by Constance Perin

BELONGING IN AMERICA: Reading Between the Lines

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Wordy anthropological musings on the state of mainstream America, by the author of Everything In Its Place: Social Order and Land Use in America (1977). In general, Perin is concerned here with asking a lot of questions (not many of which she actually answers) about why mainstream Americans (represented here by suburbanites) draw lines between family and friends, community and privacy, home and work, adults and children, male and female, and--person and dog. Her theme: "". . .Americans see renters, blacks, children, the elderly, people with low incomes, together with the signs of them in housing and geographical location, as culturally unsettling."" People, as mammals, respond to their fears and anxieties by freezing, fleeing, or fighting. In the suburban context, freezing is represented by' prim lawns that declare ""Keep Off"" and by six-foot fences, while fighting can occur over indignities like the neighbor's dog defecating on one's property. Perin explores all this in dense, sometimes impenetrable prose; fortunately, however, she relies heavily on quotations from other sources and on her interviews with middle-class suburbanites. More problematic, though, is her focus on the white middle-class suburbanite as representative of ""American"" values--a leap of cultural chauvinism in this most pluralistic of societies. Perin's application of cultural anthropology concepts to suburban life is rigorous and yields some intriguing findings, but these remain nearly buried in her obfuscatory prose and far-flung inferences.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1988
Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin Press