Not Yet a Placeless Land

Not Yet a Placeless Land: Tracking an Evolving American Geography

Wilbur Zelinsky
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 376
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Not Yet a Placeless Land
    Book Description:

    Today it is taken as a given that the United States has undergone a nationwide process of homogenization—that a country once rich in geographic and cultural diversity has subsided into a placeless sameness. The American population, after all, spends much of its time shopping or eating in lookalike chain or franchise operations, driving along featureless highways built to government specifications, sitting in anonymous airports, and sleeping in forgettable motels. In this book, cultural geographer Wilbur Zelinsky challenges that nearly universal view and reaches a paradoxical conclusion: that American land and society are becoming more uniform and more diverse at the same time. After recounting the many ways in which modern technologies, an advanced capitalist market system, and a potent central political establishment have standardized the built landscape of the country’s vast territory and its burgeoning population over the past two hundred and fifty years, he also considers the vigor of countervailing forces. In a carefully balanced assessment, he documents steady increases in the role of the unpredictable, in the number and variety of arbitrarily located places and activities, and the persistence of basic cultural diversities. Contrary to popular perceptions, placetoplace differences in spoken language, religion, and political behavior have not diminished or disappeared. In fact, Zelinsky shows, novel cultural regions and specialized cities have been emerging even as a latterday version of regionalism and examples of neolocalism are taking root in many parts of the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-181-6
    Subjects: Population Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. 1 The Argument
    (pp. 1-16)

    Is the United States becoming a placeless land? Have all those place-to-place differences in our humanized landscapes and the communities that inhabit them, has all this geographic particularity become a thing of the past? Although our pollsters may never have posed this intensely geographic question to a sample of the public, such a judgment would seem to be virtually universal nowadays among our rank-and-file citizenry. Furthermore, the great majority of men and women in the knowledge industry who have commented on the topic have endorsed the notion of nationwide homogenization in terms of economy, landscape, lifestyle, and all manner of...

  6. 2 E Pluribus Unum? The Mashing vs. the Sorting of America
    (pp. 17-81)

    As of 1783, after overcoming truly fearsome military odds, the unlikely infant American republic had just wrested its independence from the grip of the Western world’s richest and mightiest nation only to face an equally daunting task: how to create a viable polity and economy. Unfortunately, there were no precedents to fall back on. During this period, the Western world had just begun the process of crafting something utterly new, the modern nation-state, with the most notable progress registered in France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Prussia.¹ In those countries, forging the new entity was a top-down affair, with a...

  7. 3 Pondering the Built Landscape
    (pp. 82-116)

    In chronicling all the many mechanisms working over time toward the “mashing of America,” the previous chapter does indeed present a strong case on behalf of the Homogenization Hypothesis. But we have not yet turned our gaze—or that of our imaginary traveler—on the actual scene. When we do so, scrutinizing the built landscape, despite some interesting qualifications, the case becomes even more persuasive—and the relevance of the Big Sort somewhat questionable or peripheral.

    What is it that we are looking at? Paraphrasing the words of the late, great J. B. Jackson, the built landscape, as distinguished from...

  8. 4 The Theater of the Unpredictable
    (pp. 117-163)

    As we have seen, much of the humanized landscape of the United States is explainable in terms of rational, even “scientific,” decisions and actions on the part of government agencies and by business firms operating nationally and regionally, programs calculated to maximize profit or power. The result has been progression from a relatively simple and homogeneous early agrarian American landscape, one rather nicely in accord with central place theory and the cluster concept, toward a much more complicated type of territorial predictability or repetitiveness. Thus the pattern today, the coast-to-coast backdrop, so to speak, is something dynamic and intricate: the...

  9. 5 Territorial Diversities in the Cultural Realm: Yea and Nay
    (pp. 164-205)

    After our tour of the visible, tangible, and readily countable features of the American landscape in Chapters 2 and 3, we could affirm that the conventional wisdom does have some basis in fact. There has indeed been a pervasive homogenization or, more strictly, a repetitive patterning, a tessellation, of places, of modes of work and consumption. Themodern market system in alliance with the statehas been triumphant, and decidedly so. The main business of America is business: making things, providing services, getting, spending, and, in collusion with government, arranging spatial matters so as to optimize the accumulation of capital...

  10. 6 The Regional Factor
    (pp. 206-261)

    The accumulation of evidence in the preceding chapters leads to an unavoidable interim judgment: that the homogenization or rationalization of American territory and society has indeed beenthedominant process in the historical geography of the nation since its inception. But we must also add some large qualifications to any account of this triumphal procession. As we have learned, accompanying such a grand convergence, this creation of a set of interlocking clusters bearing a strong family resemblance—along with the smoothing out of various cultural wrinkles—there has also been a lively eruption, ever greater in number and variety, of...

  11. 7 Is the Jury Still Out?
    (pp. 262-270)

    The most immediate of the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence reviewed in this inquiry is that the conventional wisdom is essentially correct—but with some crucial qualifications. Superficially at least, the United States has become a monolithic, homogenized nation-state and, by any historical reckoning, a uniquely powerful one. This is hardly the outcome one would have foreseen for an infant republic with its loose confederation of thirteen former colonies more often than not at loggerheads with one another. Furthermore, what has resulted is a national community differing quite profoundly in the character of its homogeneity from a very...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 271-296)
  13. References
    (pp. 297-350)
  14. Index
    (pp. 351-356)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 357-357)