Monday, November 24, 2014

The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community by Marc J. Dunkelman | Book Review

The Vanishing Neighbor was difficult to rate.  On Goodreads, I only gave it 2 stars because I was reading it for leisure.  If I were a sociology student, I'd probably give it 4-5 stars.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to others to read "for fun" but I can't deny the depth and wealth of information within, or the novelty of the thesis presented.

Let me back up just a little and explain why, exactly, I picked up this book in the first place.  Two years ago, the hubby and I bought a house in a suburb and moved in and I waited and waited and waited for a neighbor to come over and say hi.  Maybe with a plate of cookies.  I spent my evenings imagining running into neighbors as we all came home from work and sharing glasses of wine on the front porch.  (I bought a few bottles of "good" wine just in case.)  I looked forward to dog-sitting for the neighbors two houses down and giving children's book recommendations to the neighbors one house down.  We moved onto a cul de sac; I daydreamed of "block parties" on the 4th of July.  Because this is what I grew up with.  I wasn't delusional, I swear!  When I was a kid, all the neighbors hung out and we kids played together and our parents sat on the porches together and there were cul de sac block parties every 4th of July.  

I picked up Mr. Dunkelman's book hoping for answers.  Why was it that not a single neighbor came over to welcome us to the neighborhood?  Why was one of our neighbors actually actively antagonistic?  What was wrong with me that no one wanted to form connections?

The good news:  there's absolutely nothing wrong with me or the hubby, according to the author.  It's just that in the past 20 years, America has seen a great shift, a wave, as he terms it, from geographical community connections to a more selective "networked" society.  We Americans own a lot of cars.  We have great public transportation systems in big cities.  We have many computers and lots of internet access.  We no longer rely on the neighbor next door because we can easily selectively choose our social group, even if the others in the group live many miles away.  I can't tell you how relieved I was to find that out so early in the book.  The Beaver Cleaver community model just doesn't exist anymore.  I'm not doing anything wrong, and my neighbors aren't doing anything wrong.  We've just become a more efficient society!

I thought the author did a fantastic job presenting both the positives and the negatives of the shift into this new, networked society.  Sure, I was reassured about my own situation, but he also brought up some negatives.  People very rarely run into people outside of their education level, socioeconomic level, and career anymore.  This can actually impede idea-sharing, which could lead to a loss of innovation in America.  That's no good.  

The author also does a fantastic job with his research.  My mind was a little blown at all the texts he referenced, and all the diverse historical sociological theories that he pulled together to support his thesis.  If I were his professor, I'd totally give him an A++.

Unfortunately, that's also where this book lost me a bit, and lost stars in my personal rating of the book.  You see, I'm not a professor or student of economics.  This book was pretty intense for something I was reading prior to going to bed.  So, please check out this book if you're a student of sociology, and maybe look for something a little lighter if you're an average Joe like me.

*I checked out my copy of The Vanishing Neighbor from my local library.

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