The Middletown studies are classics within the field of sociology. Students at Ball State, located in “Middletown” itself, are adapting the project for the stage:
Almost a century later, 40 theatre and sociology students join in an immersive project to take the social experiment and put it in motion in live theater.
“The thing about the Middletown studies and what Robert and Helen Lynd were trying to accomplish was ground-breaking,” Jennifer Blackmer, associate professor of the Department of Theatre, said. “They came to Muncie to study Middle America like they would a tribe in New Guinea.”…
Beginning in spring 2011, the students conducted around 60 interviews with Muncie community members and studied various records of the Middletown studies, including the products of the Lynds studies: “Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture,” published in 1929, and “Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts,” written as the couple revisited Muncie in the midst of the Great Depression. Students admit they were skeptical at the project’s start…
The couple serves as two personalities in the play among a cast of four main characters; the Lynds who are conducting their study in the 1920s, and two fictional Ball State sociology students trying to copy the Middletown study process. There are sixteen voices in the play of both students and community theater actors.
I would be interested in seeing this. It could bring life to some classic studies that most (all?) college students have never heard of but in their time revealed a lot about “normal” America. Plus, it allows students to connect with their community, linking art with real life. Just as some sociologists have started pursuing video projects and blogs, could theater (and art more broadly) become a way that sociologists share their findings?
Though the study isn’t referenced much in sociology these days, I am including it in current lectures in my American Suburbanization class. When talking about the rise of the automobile, the Middletown studies reveal some interesting details: people basically changed their lives so that they could drive around. The American love affair with the car started early and changed cultural patterns and values as well in addition to the obvious changes in development patterns.