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X-POST FROM H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-Urban@h-net.msu.edu (October, 1999) Rhoda H. Halperin. _Practicing Community: Class Culture and Power in an Urban Neighborhood_. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. xv + 352 pp. Tables, maps, notes, bibliography, and index. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-292-73118-3; $19.95 (paper), ISBN 0-292-73117-5. Reviewed for H-Urban by Kenneth A. Scherzer <email@example.com>, Department of History, Middle Tennessee State University. Embattled Community: Ethnography and Activism in One Cincinnati Neighborhood. Since Boston's West End was first threatened with urban renewal in the fifties, scholars have paid the most attention to working-class urban neighborhoods when these communities faced the wrecking ball. For this reason, the classic sociological works by Herbert Gans and Marc Fried both have an elegiac quality to them.  Rhoda H. Halperin's ethnographic study of working-class community in Cincinnati's East End, a nondescript neighborhood hugging the Ohio River is different in tone. Here, residents fight the encroachment of the developer's bulldozers and gentrifying "yuppies in minivans" with the same tenacity they showed against the devastating floodwaters, which inundated the river lowlands they inhabit in 1997. Such assaults have had a transforming effect upon the community. The invasion of outsiders coveting the prime riverfront real estate for themselves, has created an awareness of class and space that has, unknowingly for them, intensified the community identity for working-class residents. For these "real" East Enders, "attachment to place and family, and family as a metaphor for community" is a defiant badge of residence in the face of newcomers who marginalize them "by their manners of speech, their attire, their lifestyles, and their imposition of power and control." (p. 303) On its most basic level, Halperin's book is an attempt to shift the meaning of community from the standard definition of spatially defined community which is "geographical and bounded" to one that is a "dynamic, contentious, and changing process" embedded in the lives of the residents. (p. 2) Freed from these constraints, neighborhood community becomes both a set of life experiences and a milieu that is hard to penetrate for outsiders. For its largely Appalachian residents, white and black, community comprises a diverse web of connections (close and otherwise) built upon Geertzian local knowledge and family ties which encompass long-time residents and those who have moved to other neighborhoods or have remigrated. As an anthropologist who has previously studied the sharing of family resources in rural Kentucky, her foray into urban studies is indebted to anthropologists like Karl Polanyi and other students of neighborhood class life -- particularly in England but also spanning the third world -- including Michael Young, Peter Wilmott, and Robert Redfield. As a scholar eager to understand the dynamics of community as a crucible of working-class culture, her work is indebted to the work of E. P. Thompson. And as a participant as well as observer, her work shows the influence of post-modernism in the work of Jacques Derrida and, of course, Michel Foucault. Other scholars of community will recognize how her work fits squarely into newer scholarship on aspatial community embedded in social networks as well as the "community saved" model of sociologist like Barry Wellman with its stress on the continuing vitality of urban community. The chief regret students of urban community may have with her work is her selective use of the literature and the lost opportunity to engage this broader inter-disciplinary literature more fully. While the definition of community is forged in the contentions between "real" East Enders and outsiders (which also includes newcomers to their area), community identity is more about class. Stereotyped as poor, Appalachian "Hillbillies", long-term residents, many of whose families go back six generations, possess an acute sense of place and community heritage despite the fragility of their hold on the neighborhood. For them, community life exists in an every changing matrix of day-to-day relations and practices. Relying extensively on her reading of the textures of community, daily life, residents' statements, and even poetry by residents, Halperin constructs a portrait of a working-class enclave that is counter-hegemonic to elite visions of Cincinnati. The attachments, she argues, are so fundamental that, in the word of one resident: "Take away East End we have nothing." (p. 15) By locating the nexus for community in working-class culture, her analysis takes pains to relate the lives of her subjects to other marginalized peoples studied by anthropologists in the Third World. Such parallels are certainly apparent in her excellent discussion of domestic economy, which she labels "householding" after Polanyi. Householding is the process by which residents both subsist through a combination of regular earning, mutual exchange with members of their extended households and neighbors, income from the informal economy (such as flea market earning), and government supplements. Local attachments are even a matter of public health as shown by her use of records from a neighborhood health care facility to document the signs of psychological stress East Enders manifest as well as their reluctance to seek medical help outside the familiar boundaries of the neighborhood. Third World models shape this book in another important aspect. "Real" East Enders are involved in a struggle against what she labels "local colonialism" on the part of developers and slumlords. In the name of profits, the colonizers strive to dominate neighborhood meetings, and to marginalize residents by belittling their manners, customs, and even way of speaking. If attacking gentrifiers as colonizers seems too harsh, it fits into Halperin's broader analysis of working-class powerlessness that dominates the last third of the book. _Practicing Community_ is a book as much about the role of scholar-as-activist as it is about the community. The book is the product of six years of passionate involvement by its author in local affairs including a stint as a member of the board of directors of the neighborhood health clinic. Indeed, Halperin often seems torn between her roles as anthropologist and "community-preserving advocate," and tempted to put on her "'hillbilly redneck' sweatshirt" to express her "frustration with the excessive verbiage and filibustering imposed by people of means on community residents who respond with polite, but seething, silence." (pp. 113-114) Sometimes, this passion seems to get the better of her, as demonstrated by the discussion of "wannabe insiders" seeking to monopolize meetings of the East End Area Council, a neighborhood association, by pushing for undemocratic bylaws revisions. Filling her discussion with long quotes from one particularly arrogant developer, Halperin barely disguises her contempt. (pp. 256-268) Nevertheless, Halperin honestly handles the issues raised of researcher-as-participant in her discussion of methodology. More problematic is the book's unconventional structure, one that makes her book difficult to summarize beyond these broad contours. Halperin's experiment in organization reflects the dual audiences she seeks to address, both scholarly and non-academic. In the first several chapters, she strives to immerse readers in East End life as she experienced it, covering such topics as social structure, kinship, and "textures" of community, pausing to discuss methodology, and continuing with a discussion of cultural economy. Unfortunately, the remaining half of the book presents disconnected essays on community planning, health care, the still-unresolved politics of constructing a heritage center facility, local colonialism, an expansive discussion of 1997 floods drafted after the book was in press, followed by a conclusion, epilogue, and postscript. A number of these chapters include long passages of verbatim transcripts of meeting debates and sometimes-repetitive discussion of individual cases. Readers (lay and scholarly) may find such under digested materials tedious, especially given their rich potential if excerpted with greater care. Urban historians will find her approach somewhat ahistorical. The process of neighborhood succession has been an important part of spatial ecology since sociologists from the Chicago School first studied it in the twenties. Yet Halperin gives us little feel of how the area came to be dominated by Appalachian migrants and what battles characterized its earlier patterns of settlement. Prior to the invasion of yuppies, as she readily admits, the East End was a contentious mix of different ethnic groups and different waves of settlers. How did "real" East Enders come to define the neighborhood and membership? With many residents straddling two communities as they migrate back and forth between their Appalachian places of origin and Cincinnati, the embedded community of class may not be as simple as "us" and "them" but, rather, consist of multiple overlapping layers of community. And if she locates its structure in culture more than place, why is it under stress from bulldozers and affluent rehabbers? Clearly householding and other attributes embedded in class are not limited to a given geographical area. If historians have lessons to teach Halperin about the evolution of a neighborhood identity, she has one rich lesson to show them: the key role of culture in shaping local identity. Despite its flaws, this rich, often evocative study captures its subjects in all their complexity. Historians may recognize in this the familiar historical insight of E. P. Thompson on class and culture, yet her work nevertheless captures the humanity of East Enders with passion but without excessive romanticism. The survival of the East End -- if it does survive -- will be a testament to the depth of these cultural roots and the community awareness that has emerged in the face of adversity. Note . Herbert J. Gans, _The Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans_, New York: Free Press, 1962, and Marc Fried, _The World of the Urban Working Class_, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973. Copyright (c) 1999 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@h-net.msu.edu.