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Vulgaria: The Re-Enchantment of Suburbia

Abstract

This commentary interprets the development of upscale American suburbs in terms of the changing political economy associated with distinctive phases of political-economic development. The current outcome, it is suggested, is “Vulgaria:” the emblematic cultural landscapes of contemporary American suburbia. They are landscapes of bigness and spectacle, characterized by packaged developments, simulated settings, and conspicuous consumption, and they have naturalized an ideology of competitive consumption, moral minimalism, and disengagement from notions of social justice and civil society.

These landscapes are examined as an expression of modernity, focusing on the interdependence of consumption and production within the political economy of modern urbanization, on the roles of suburbia in terms of consumption and, in particular, on the “enchantment” that is necessary to sustained consumption and capital accumulation under successive phases of capital development and waves of metropolitan growth.

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