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The Written Suburb

The Written Suburb: An American Site, An Ethnographic Dilemma

John D. Dorst
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Written Suburb
    Book Description:

    Chadds Ford, an upscale suburb in southeastern Pennsylvania, devotes a lot of energy to creating a historical identity. Numerous institutions participate in this task, including museums, a land conservancy dedicated to the preservation of its historical landscape, and the Historical Society, which is responsible for an annual community celebration. Larger institutions related to regional tourism and suburban development generate a steady flow of texts about Chadds Ford in the form of glossy travel magazines, pamphlets, brochures, and gallery displays.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0844-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Postmodernity as an Ethnographic Dilemma
    (pp. 1-7)

    The scene is the rolling, wooded landscape along the back roads of the middle Brandywine River Valley in southeastern Pennsylvania. A car is parked at the entrance of the lane leading into Spring Meadows, one of the fancier housing developments in a region generally known as Chadds Ford. Spring Meadows is designed according to the deep-suburban principle of “cluster housing,” with expensive spec and custom homes in various traditional/rustic styles gathered on one part of the development property, the rest left as open space to be shared by all the residents. The car’s owner is there by the road. He...

  6. 1 Chadds Ford Souvenirs
    (pp. 8-77)

    In 1905 Chadds Ford village, besides its cluster of houses and a Chadds Ford Hotel, was composed of “two railroad stations, a creamery, a lumber and coal yard, carriage works, two stores, grange hall, another hall, two churches, a harness shop, barber shop and a drug store, also two doctors” (Thompson 1973:154). A 1980 inventory of public spaces in the village included a post office, law office, real estate office (all housed in a restored, gambrel-roofed barn), a collection of tourist shops (the Barn Shops—a mini-mall housed in the outbuildings of a nineteenth-century farm), an art gallery (formerly the...

  7. 2 Some History
    (pp. 78-100)

    The segment of the above chronology I will dwell on here is roughly the twenty-five year period beginning in 1957. That year is conveniently marked by the closing of the old general store in Chadds Ford, the appearance of the first planned suburban development in the area, the formation of an indigenous community organization to resist unwanted development in the Brandywine Valley, and Andrew Wyeth’s completion of the painting Brown Swiss, arguably his most important depiction of the Chadds Ford landscape. The next year saw the first staging of the Chadds Ford Day celebration.

    Symbolically at least, these events inaugurate...

  8. 3 Chadds Ford as a Site of Postmodernity: Veneers, Vignettes, and the Myth of Tradition
    (pp. 101-136)

    Something significant happened in Chadds Ford between the late 1950s and the early 1980s. Or more accurately, a whole series of complex, interconnected transformations occurred and collectively accomplished a thorough retooling of cultural production at this Site. The emergence and subsequent mutation of the Chadds Ford Days celebration provide a kind of map to these changes. It is only with considerable ambivalence that I am characterizing this shift in Chadds Ford’s cultural discourse as the emergence of postmodernity as the new cultural dominant of the Site. In the context of this case study it would be preferrable I think to...

  9. 4 Chadds Ford Days: Living History and the Closed Space of Postmodern Consumption
    (pp. 137-172)

    A central convention of what has become one of the grand traditions in anthropology, call it interpretive/symbolic, is to focus on “key” events, recurring nodes of standardized collective behavior—rituals, festivities and celebrations, games and competitions, and so on. These are read as symbolic codings of deep cultural meaning. They provide models for everyday behavior and belief, crystallize cultural identity, or help manage recurring cultural contradictions. Such events reflect a cultural self-consciousness not typical of mundane existence. In them a culture suspends its everyday operations and holds itself at arms length for brief inspection, foregrounding and reaffirming, perhaps in some...

  10. 5 An Allegory of Museums: A Comparative Reading of Two Gallery Displays
    (pp. 173-203)

    Chris Sanderson (Figure 1) and Andy Wyeth (Figure 2) were friends. One thing they had in common was a reputation for eccentricity. Wyeth is, or at least is popularly perceived to be, an eccentric of the reclusive sort. This image is compounded, I think, of two clichés: the shy, simple man of country life, and the genius so consumed by his art that he shuns the practical business of the mundane world. Sanderson, even more than Wyeth, was a fully vested eccentric—a paragon of eccentricity in an area that has produced more than its share of characters and originals....

  11. Conclusion: Self-Estrangements
    (pp. 204-210)

    At the beginning of this book I used the word “post-ethnographic,” taking care to cage it in quotation marks. My simple contention is that the historical conditions of advanced consumer capitalism have occupied the ground upon which ethnography as a special enterprise has traditionally been based. In its everyday practice postmodernity absorbs the ethnographic game, dissolving the boundary between the site of ethnographic experience and the site of ethnographic writing. One of the most “disturbing” effects of this historical condition is the inevitable appearance of the ethnographer-as-already-written. In so far as I have taken up a stance that is somehow...

  12. References
    (pp. 211-217)
  13. Index
    (pp. 218-220)