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Not Yet a Placeless Land

Tracking an Evolving American Geography

Wilbur Zelinsky

Publication Year: 2011

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 look-alike 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, place-to-place 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 latter-day version of regionalism and examples of neo-localism are taking root in many parts of the United States.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv

Table of Contents

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p. ix

List of Tables

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p. xi

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pp. xiii-21

Still another plunge into terra incognita. Or is it a labyrinth this time? This book is the latest, possibly final, chapter in a lifelong quest to grasp the realities of American cultural and social geography. It has involved countless miles, days, and hours of observation, reading, discussion, daydreaming, and brooding. Not Yet a Placeless Land supersedes, and substantially ...

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Chapter 1: The Argument

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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 ...

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Chapter 2: E Pluribus Unum? The Mashing vs. the Sorting of America

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pp. 17-81

As of 1783, after overcoming truly fearsome military odds, the unlikely infant American republic had just wrested its in dependence 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 ...

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Chapter 3: Pondering the Built Landscape

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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 ...

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Chapter 4: The Theater of the Unpredictable

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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 ...

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Chapter 5: Territorial Diversities in the Cultural Realm:Yea and Nay

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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 affi rm 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. The modern market system ...

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Chapter 6: The Regional Factor

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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 been the dominant 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 pro cession. As we ...

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Chapter 7: Is the Jury Still Out?

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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 ...


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pp. 271-296


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pp. 297-350


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pp. 351-356

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761816
E-ISBN-10: 1613761813
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558498716
Print-ISBN-10: 1558498710

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794700499
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Not Yet a Placeless Land

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cultural geography -- United States.
  • Human geography -- United States.
  • United States -- Historical geography.
  • National characteristics, American.
  • United States -- Civilization.
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