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Themed Environments
Suburbs and the Middle Class in Bangkok
Timothy Simpson

In his contribution, Timothy Simpson seeks to document and analyze the emergence and popularity of 'themed environments' in Bangkok and their role in Thai middleclass and suburban lifestyles. Thailand 's themed environments, such as restaurants, shopping malls, and historic parks, draw on symbolism derived from both contemporary popular culture and Thai history and folklore, and play a role in the construction of a middleclass lifestyle. Bangkok 's urbanization and concomitant industrial and economic development has transformed the physical geography and cultural landscape of Bangkok , contributing to its sub-urban sprawl and to the emergence of two types of complementary cultural spaces: 'nonplaces' and 'themed environments'. Nonplaces are characterized by an emptying out of symbolic content to create largely functional and 'hypersignificant' environments, which isolate people from one another even when they share a common social space. The 'emptiness' of such nonplaces is compensated for by the excessive, or 'hypersignificant', symbolic construction of themed environments. Such environments provide common public spaces and a context for public life. The author analyzes the symbolic construction of themed environments and their role in daily Thai middle-class life. Focusing on particular examples of themed restaurants and historic parks and amusements he details how both loc al and global thematic content is constructed symbolically. Such consumption behaviour contributes to the formation of middle-class identity and creation of social differentiation. (back)


Defending the Suburban Dream
Gated Communities in Calabasas, Califomia
Joost Zonneveld

In his article 'Defending the Suburban Dream', Joost Zonneveld argues that the inhabitants of so-called 'gated communities' are trying to recreate the safe world of an imagined suburbia. One way or the other, all the community members have experienced that the dream of a suburban life - a dream of safety, calmness, social cohesion and neighbourliness in an open space where subtle readings of boundaries could be assumed ­did not materialize in the older suburbs of Los Angeles. Consequently they fenced themselves in, hoping to be able to shut out the chaos and threat of the ever-expanding city. Zonneveld shows that the suburban dream can only be pursued under a rigid regime of guards, video-circuits, strict rules and regulations, and overall control. (back)

Strange Distance
Reading Walden in Suburbia
Jenny Cool

As an ethnographic filmmaker, Jenny Cool set out as to examine 'the gaps' between the vision of life in a 'new home community' marketed by housing developers and that bought and lived by the residents of Antelope Valley, a suburb 50 miles north of Los Angeles, California. When she showed footage to peers, they assessed it in terms of her informants' 'bad taste', 'tackiness' and 'lack of style'. Almost everyone she knew was an 'expert' on the processes at work among these suburban home buyers and could pronounce this judgment automatically. Because of this reaction, her locus of interest shifted to the perceptions that 'intellectuals' had of her informants. These groups seemed to be at a strange distance from one another: the Valley folk were far enough away to be seen as 'other', yet close enough to be 'analyzed' at a glance. She came to realize that her first interpretation (the stale, automatic one more or less shared by her peers) and the life­styles of the Antelope Valley are but two sides of the same coin: separation, automatic borders, strange distance. She meditates on what Henry Thoreau's Walden has to offer the anthropological enterprise, specifically, on what it has to teach about studying people we recognize as distinct from ourselves, yet bound with us. (back)

The Indian Middle Class and Residential Space
The Suburb as the Abode of the 'Educated'
Margit van Wessel

Margit van Wessel unpacks the reasons of the attraction suburban housing estates have for the middle classes in Baroda ( India ). She shows how access to higher education and life in suburbia - or, in society - are regarded as mutually constitutive and serve as a means of distinction from less educated people living in rural areas and the city. Far from being perceived as boring and uniform, suburbia plays a key role in expressing middle class identity. At the same time, the essay shows, suburban residents realize that the price they have to pay for their distinct identity in terms of superiority and progress is the loss of communality and conviviality on the level of the neighbourhood, a loss underpinned by a nostalgic idealization of the village. (back)

The New Land

Suburb and City in One
Leon Deben

The Dutch new town of Almere is the setting of a research project on social cohesion in which nine sociology students from the University of Amsterdam participated. Leon Deben, one of the supervisors of the project, reports on some of its major outcomes. In the Netherlands , Almere is subject to a host of stereotypical images related to its suburban character. Yet, its residents consider it a Suburban Dream and are extremely content with their housing and living conditions. Almerians stand aloof from the discussions about their place of residence. They appreciate, amongst many other things, the green environment, the smallness of scale of the neighbourhoods, the social control and the relatively spacious and affordable homes. The author distinguishes various types of ties Almerians have with their hometown and links them with stages in their life cycle. Almere, planned from the very beginning of its construction in 1976, would seem to be on its way to become a 'real' city, though many 'experts' strongly deny that this is the case. (back)

Dreams of Leaving . . .
Suburbia in Cairo
Anouk de Koning

In her brief imaginative essay, Anouk de Koning describes how many lower middleclass Cairenes dream of an escape of the old city's poverty, dirt and overcrowding. A dream, however, they seem to reserve for their children to come true, for whom they bought an apartment in New Cairo. In the meantime, the suburb is situated somewhat forlorn in the desert, a ghost town awaiting its future inhabitants to grow up and to come to life.(back)