Chapter 2.2: The Social Character of the Manor



List of Tables, Maps, Illustrations, and Figures


1. Symbolism, Self and Urban Environment
    Residential Succession: How "Losers" Win
    Negro Pioneers and White Flight
    Relative Selectability among Minority Invaders
    Symbolic History and Self
    Symbolic History: Modern and Ancient Foundations

2. Self Selection and Urban Decay
    The Social Character of the Manor

3. Woodland to City Neighborhood: 300 Years of Change
    Indians, Geology and Transportation
    Protecting the Community: Covenant and Zoning
    Increasing Community Parameters

4. Invasion and Succession

    Irish and Italian Catholics
    Veterans: Undesirable Heroes
    Blacks and the Special Problems of Nonwhite Invaders
    Back to City Brownstones: A Confused Invasion
    The Invasion Mentality

5. Micrological Aspects of Urban Problems
    Involuntary Change: Aging and Death
    Attidues of Heirs
    Apartment Houses: The Big Change
    The Life of a Tenant and a Building
    Understanding Intricate Urban Problems

6. Stigma and Self-Image in the Inner City
    Achievement and Residentia Movement
    The Moral Careers of Inner-City Residents
    The Community Paradigm
    Implications and Applications


The Lefferts Manor could be any middle-class urban neighborhood that was established in the late nineteenth century. Here row upon row of sturdy, well-kept, single-family homes are occupied by households headed by professional and semi-professional men and women. In contrast to the turn-of-the-century, many of the Manor's families are co-headed by women who have returned to work after their traditional roles of child rearing and housekeeping became less important. The two-income family is an increasingly common situation in middle-class urban neighborhoods. Children grow up and move away. Modern appliances reduce household chores to a minimum with a concomitant decrease in the need for full-time servants, who had always been an integral part of "respectable" middle-class house-holds in the past. Today, custom and prosperity allow for the periodic "heavy" chores to be performed by contracted housekeepers or service organizations. Traditionally, this work of washing floors, windows and cleaning rugs had been overseen by the "lady of the house". In the middle-class of the Manor, the lady of the house is more and more likely to be employed outside the home.

People who live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods seem to have limited sense of local community. The social and geographic parameters of what they would call their own neighborhood are small. Upper-middle-class people tend to be oriented toward their own property and their own homes. They live inside their houses, and not as the less affluent, outside of them. Ordinarily, they have relatively few close friends who live with them in their local neighborhood communities. A functional explanation for this situation is that they have no economic or social need for large numbers of more intimate neighbors as compared to people in working-class areas. The common place "neighboring" activities which are features of urban neighborhood living as cited by Suzanne Keller are infrequently engaged in by most Manorites.10 Whereas in most lower-middle-class communities neighboring seems to be a major source of social interaction, in the Manor these activities are exceptions to the general rule of simple, polite helloes and rare full-length conversations on the street, what Georg Simmel would have called "meaningless sociability".11 Seldom are neighbors invited inside for coffee, tea, an afternoon or evening drink and a "chat". People in the Lefferts Manor normally do not know each other very well at all; they are merely familiar to each other. In this regard, Manorites are exceptionally good examples of Louis Wirth's "urban life style".12

A major exception to the rule of "mere familiarity" in the Lefferts Manor are the social groups that form which are composed of small numbers of women with pre-school age children who come together symbiotically. Mothers get together to allow their restless children opportunities to play with others, but as the children grow older they are usually sent to a wide range of nursery and kindergarten programs that are determined by the relative wealth of parents, and their ethnic and religious backgrounds. Local public or parochial schools might provide an opportunity to continue these early bonds, but most Manorites do not send their children to local educational institutions, unless the schools are as "exceptional" and prestigious as the parents believe themselves to be.

Usually, the fathers of Manor children are only peripherally involved in the female "near groups" that are child-oriented. They are more likely to be the topics of conversation in these groups than participants in them. Most fathers also do not concern themselves to any great degree with the task of childrearing. In some ways this child-oriented aspect of the Manor is similar to the suburban communities studied by James S. Coleman.13 Different from the suburbs, however, is the fact that single cohorts of children are never a major proportion of the Lefferts Manor population. In more advantaged families in the Manor the mother as well as the father retreats from extensive interaction with children. The children are "taken" care of by nurses, sitters, tutors, schools, aftercare, day camps, sleep-away camps and other, often expensive services, which leave parents free to pursue their own interests.

People who live in the Lefferts Manor do not become overly upset or feel great loss when a neighbor passes away. Neither the sight of moving vans nor funeral cars generate much community sadness, except in the limited, singly affected household, and perhaps a close neighbor. The major concern when the Manor loses a member is focused upon who will replace the departed. Manorites want to be sure that the "right" kind of family moves into the vacated space, a family that is their equal.

Few middle-aged Manorites have such great personal emotional stakes and attachments to the community that they could not be torn away, particularly if the move is associated with greater economic and social advancement. It is the older community members and the youngest homeowners who have the greatest psychic investments in their particular homes and the Manor itself. The elderly are emotionally welded to the neighborhood because such a large portion of their lives is connected to their present address. Their homes are their own personal historical museums. The younger residents are firmly attached to the Manor due to the newness of their experience as homeowner, and the immediacy of their personal investment in their property. The thrill of owning your first home tends to wear off slowly, and after five or six years is completely gone. Re-decorating and maintenance becomes a chore and people start debating the cost of re-investment, and weighing the relative value of improving their property. This is a crucial stage, for those who decide to re-invest in their property, and the Manor, generally stay on forever. The decision to stay, or to move, is based on the relative weight of positive and negative definitions homeowners have of the Lefferts Manor, as compared to other housing opportunities.

Manorites are woven together by intricate and vague networks of communication. Several opinion and information leaders are located on each block. Most often the source of news about the community is either a non-working older woman, or an active young woman with small children. Both of these kinds of Manorites are most likely to be aware of what is going on locally. They also have the greatest opportunity to collect and distribute news and tid-bits of gossip, about neighbors and the neighborhood. There are also a few community activists in the Manor and local community organizations which distribute flyers and hold meetings, but most residents have neither the time nor the inclination for community involvement.

Although few Manorites come into direct contact with opinion and information leaders, the disseminat-ors are indirectly linked to almost the whole popula-tion of the community through intermediaries. Contact with, and information about, geographically near co-residents of the Lefferts Manor is slight, and the degree of contact and knowledge even further as distances between households increase. Manorites who live around the corner from each other are virtual strangers to each other in most cases.

When Manorites walk in their neighborhood they usually take the most direct path; to a subway or bus stop, retail store, the park, and then proceed directly home. They take account of very little during these trips through these "psychological tunnels" which take them outside of the Manor itself. Only the most outstanding and obvious features of the physical environment are noticed; an abandoned store, a fire-damaged building, police cars with flashing lights, or an ambulance parked in the Common might catch their eye. Even these events merit only minor attention and little comment. Since the recent decay began outside of the boundaries of the Lefferts Manor, they venture less frequently outside their enclave by foot. We might wish to argue that the Commoners have little "collective consciousness" as community members, but they certainly have a "collective unconsciousness". Jane Jacobs had noted in Death and Life of Great American Cities that long straight blocks, such as those that traverse the Lefferts Manor, tend to reduce perceptual awareness of the physical environment (1961).

Although the life styles and behavioral traits of Manorites are by and large similar to those displayed by other middle-class urbanites, the Lefferts Manor is also unique. Uniqueness is, however, a universal attribute of neighborhoods. Ordinary people always talk about their communities, and themselves, as though there were no others exactly like them. Even the ways that Manorites define the special attributes of their community are similar to the ways that others define their neighborhoods. The general elements of unique description which emerge when one asks a person to describe their neighborhood are: firstly, a name, then some kind of geographic coordinates, e.g., relationships to a larger geographic area such as the city as a whole, benchmarks or local landmarks, kinds and styles of housing, and the kinds of people who now live or have lived in the neighborhood. All these data make it possible to set the community apart, symbolically, from the rest of the world. When I began interview-ing people in the Manor in 1969, many people noted in their description that it was "white". Then it became "integrated". Today it is increasingly being defined as "black". The importance of the racial aspect of community definition in the Manor, however, has never been as emphatic as that expressed by whites who live in working-class communities in Brooklyn. To them neighborhoods are either "white" or "black" (good and bad, respectively) and integrated neighborhoods are incomprehensible.

It should also be emphasized that Manorites, as compared to working class people, place racial identity nearer the end of their description of community. Ask someone where they live and they will tell you in a patterned way about the "special" qualities of their neighborhood. Being special is then a necessary component of community definition. In order to identify one's community, unique qualities and characteristics are needed, and if not readily available they will be sought out or created on the spot. Similarly, individual human beings are prone to think of themselves as being "different" from others despite the sociological argument which can be made against this assumption of particularity.

In the modern urban world it is extremely difficult to distinguish unique people from the collection of mass-produced people, and personalities we encounter in everyday life. Perhaps as a response to living among this amorphous mass of bodies, each of the individuals and individual types of people we meet seems to have some unusual "line" or story, but if one listens carefully the "lines" we are given all sound the same. In order to be our selves and not someone else, we must prove to others that we are peculiar in some way. Names, addresses, occupations, heights, weights and biographies are the things we provide to audiences to demonstrate who we are, as opposed to some other person.

An important aspect of self-definition is the place in which a person lives. As stated by A.E. Parr:

Other things permitting, the individual will choose his surroundings according to the preferences and demands of his own personality. When he exercises his choice there will unavoidably be feedback from his selection to the psychological mechanisms that made it. This implies a two-way relationship between mind and milieu in which the environment might well prove to be the determinant, as well as a product of attitudes and personality. (1970:16)

Even when one's home is not a result of personal choice, but a product of coercion, it still has a great effect on personal identity. A man in prison is not so much a "criminal" as he is a "convict" or "inmate."14 People who are convicted criminals but who have avoided confinement neither are called "cons" or "ex-cons," nor do they suffer the same degradation, or carry the same stigma, as one who has gone to prison. This is only one example of the power of residence to influence and determine socially meaningful definitions of people in society. Similarly, Louis Wirth and Kenneth B. Clark have demonstrated the negative aspects of ghetto living on the personal and group identities of their inhabitants.15

On the other extreme of meaningful residence are the values ascribed to high class areas and addresses. In John L. Hess's New York Times article, "Snobbery about One's Address Remains Alive in the City", it was noted that particularly the newly rich are willing to spend considerable sums of money for rent in buildings which have a "name", or in which prominent people live. For example, when selling apartments in the United Nations Plaza building, a luxury high-rise on Manhattan's East Side, prospective buyers were seduced to "Come and Join Truman Capote and Bobby Kennedy".16

Manorites, as dissociated from each other as they are, still share a common identity as residents of a specific place. They have a common identity even though many may not realize it. The ways by which environments, or more specifically, neighborhood communities, are defined are similar to the ways that social selves are created. Furthermore, the social and psychological definitions of place and self interact with one another and are mutually affected by many common causes. The history of the Lefferts Manor and the biographies of its members are inexorably intertwined.

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Notes to Chapter 2.2

10. See Keller (.1968:19-86) for extensive discussion of neighboring activities in different kinds of neighborhoods.

11. For Simmel on "Sociability" see (1950:40-57).

12. Wirth (1938).

13. See: Coleman (1957), Dobriner (1958), Cans (1967), Seeley et al. (1956) and Whyte (1956) for oft-cited suburban studies.

14. For an insightful analysis of the impact of prison on self identity see Irwin (1970). See also Glaser (1964) and Sykes (1958).

15. Clark (,1965) and Wirth (1928).

16. John L. Hess, "Snobbery About One's Address Remains Alive in City," New York Times, January 4, 1974, p. 3. See also Form and Stone (1957) and Clark and Cadwallader (1973).

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