While I have already written some about Elijah Anderson’s new book The Cosmopolitan Canopy (here and here), I had a chance to read the book for myself and I have a few thoughts.
1. The book is supposedly about the public spaces in Philadelphia (and other big cities) where people of different races and social classes can mingle and interact without the difficulties that race and social class can often impose. Interestingly, this isn’t really the focus of the whole book (more on this shortly). But in this section, I thought some of the analysis was thin. It is clear that Anderson has spent a lot of time in some of these spaces, such as the Reading Terminal Market. I don’t doubt his observations but others have written before about public spaces and how they operate.
1a. Thinking about this, I would enjoy seeing some work on this in suburban settings. Since this is where most Americans now live, how do public spaces in the suburbs operate?
2. The strongest part of the book, in my opinion, was the latter half when Anderson focuses more on the experiences of black males in these canopies and elsewhere. Here, Anderson provides a lot of insight into how race still is a master status, even within high-powered workplaces. His examples are interesting, including settings like law firms and upper-end restaurants, and he has some insights into how race still has a profound impact on everyday interaction. This section reminded me of Anderson’s extended story of John Turner in Code of the Street where the ethnographic data really tells us about the current state of American race.
2a. It would also be interesting to get the stories of the whites involved in these examples.
3. The emphasis of the book is Philadelphia but I would have enjoyed reading about the flavor of this particular city opposed to other large cities. Would cosmopolitan canopies work the same in other places? Does the interaction depend on the mix of groups and races? What happens in newer large cities where there may be fewer public spaces and established neighborhoods? Are spaces like Rittenhouse Square or The Gallery unique or similar to other spaces?
On the whole, I think Anderson contributes to our knowledge by exploring how race still matters in American lives today. The part about cosmopolitan canopies is intriguing but could be better developed.
17 thoughts on “Quick Review: The Cosmopolitan Canopy”
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