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Suburban citizenship


This study is an attempt to understand community participation in an American suburb. The research topic was stimulated by a lack of consensus on the issue. Some authors see substantial civic participation in U.S. suburban areas, while others see the suburbs as civically dead. Based on over 16 months of participant observation in a suburban community outside of San Diego, California, I seek to move the analysis forward by focusing on suburban notions of citizenship. I begin the dissertation with a discussion of how a suburban form of subjectivity developed over the 19th and 20th centuries. I then turn specifically to the suburban neighborhood of Rancho Peñasquitos and investigate the ways in which the space is given meaning as an ideal suburban place. Drawing on Holston's (2001) conception of local citizenship, I argue that residents of this suburb have developed their own form of citizenship that is separate from surrounding conceptions of citizenships. I investigate what this suburban form of citizenship is based on, how it is given legitimacy, and what effect it has on suburban behavior. Finally, I attempt to contextualize the development of suburban citizenship. I argue that the emergence of suburban citizenship is in part based on neoliberal governmental policies that have led to the withdrawal of the state from numerous aspects of suburban life. This leaves suburban residents exposed and unprotected. Suburban citizenships develop to fill the gaps left by neoliberal state. Throughout the dissertation, I pay particular attention to how suburban space is created and defined. An important part of suburban citizenship is based on the exclusion of various groups. These exclusions are hidden behind a discourse that makes the suburbs seem natural. The masking of these exclusions is, however, imperfect. Despite best efforts, the people and things obscured by the suburban discourses break through from time to time. The tensions between ideologies and realities haunt life in the suburbs. I interrogate these contradictions and use them to pry open the suburban discourse, thereby illustrating the ways in which the suburban landscape is created and maintained as a cultural project.

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