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124 Canadian Review of American Studies Kenneth A. Scherzer. The Unbounded Community: Neighborhood Life and Social Structure in New York City,1830-1875. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992. Pp. xviii + 356. In his quantified, computer-modeled study of New York neighborhood life and social between 1830 and 1875,Kenneth A. Scherzer relies heavily on theories and methodologies coming out of urban sociology. Analysing data from church records, police blotters, city directories, and New York state and federal censuses , and concentrating on four sample wards of Manhattan, the author concludes that the "neighborhood of nostalgia," a place "in which the 'immigrant experience provided a set of common bonds: a shared culture, common religion, family ties, and similar hopes for a better future'" (1) existed only in the imagination of today's urbanites longing for some sense of community. He claims further that the new social and labour histories of the 1970s and 1980s, picturing neighbourhoods as cradles of classconsciousness and tightly-knit, distinct ethnic or classcommunities, also oversimplify the realities of nineteenth-century New York life. A straight identification of class or ethnic community with geographic neighborhood overlooks "the dynamism and fragilityof neighborhoods" (48) in antebellum New York, says Scherzer. The expansion of the central business district, the increasing separation of residential and commercial areas, and the annual or more frequent moves of many New Yorkers from residence to residence all militated againstpermanent attachmentof people to particular neighbourhoods. Further, Scherzer finds that as late as the eve of the CivilWar, the dominant factor determining where New Yorkers livedwas not their class or ethnicity, but the location of their work, and most working class neighbourhoods remained ethnically heterogeneous. Only upper middle class and elite Anglo-American natives had the economic luxury of being able to move to homogeneous and segregated communities in the newer residential areas of Manhattan. Thus, "antebellum neighbourhoods failed to fit either the model of bipolar class division or ethnic insularity proffered by some historians" (134). Having dispelled the notion that the geographic "neighbourhood of nostalgia" or the "new social and labor history" existed in antebellum New York, Scherzer then proceeds to discuss the neighbourhood as symbolic community. In a chapter entitled "Discovery of Neighborhood," he states that early nineteenthcentury New Yorkers were barely aware that "a neighborhood could define the socialcharacteristicsof its inhabitants" (139).The growth of awareness, by 1875, Book Reviews 125 he attributes to the studies of health officials trying to understand the causes of the recurrent epidemics of yellow fever and cholera, the reports of moral reformers concerning the underclasses, the publication-in midcentury-ofguidebooks on where to find the city's brothels and other places of illicit pleasures, and the attempts of the wealthy to distinguish their enclaves with ostentatious houses, private parks and squares, and other amenities. Finally, Scherzer offers an alternate model of social interaction in nineteenthcentury New York-"the unbounded community0 -which he believes emerged from the residential transiency of the city. Except for the very poorest, he finds that the majority of metropolitan dwellers maintained contacts with a network of relatives, friends, compatriots, coworkers, and fraternal and other voluntary group associates that extended well beyond immediate neighbourhoods into other sections of the city and beyond into Brooklyn and northern New Jersey. These ties "were often a more important force in shaping social contact than local neighbourhoods through which most residents merely passed" (204). While Scherzer's contentions may well be true, it is quite difficult for the reader not versed in the use of sophisticated statistical and computer tools (for example,dichotomized and nondichotomized linear flowmodels) to evaluate his research, understand the many tables, or find his book a "good read" in the way the gracefully written narrative histories are. The author does not make things any easier by his overuse of sociological jargon rather than plain English . Indeed, at least for this reviewer, the pleasures of the book rested in the descriptive-narrative passages interspersed among the charts, theory, and explanations of sampling methods. These dealt with such things as the chaos and riotous rituals of May 1 Moving Day in Manhattan that over time reordered urban space, the details of boardinghouse life among unmarried youths, or the backgrounds...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 124-125
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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