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Sonja Salamon, Newcomers to Old Towns: Suburbanization of the Heartland.

Sonja Salamon, Newcomers to Old Towns: Suburbanization of the Heartland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. $35.00 hardcover.

In Newcomers to Old Towns: Suburbanization of the Heartland, anthropologist Sonya Salamon provides an examination of rural community change in six midwestern agrarian towns located in Illinois. The examination focuses on the meanings people attach to community and how commitment to place is shaped by these meanings. Embedded in this focus is Salamon's concern for examining the sense of community or the extent of "communityness" experienced by residents in the six agrarian towns. Salamon's concern for examining the "sense of community" and social change are central topics in the classical and contemporary literatures in urban sociology and community studies. However, the uniqueness of this text is the focus on the effects of population shifts from more urbanized areas to rural areas.

In order to examine the sense of community and rural community change, Salamon utilized a community ethnographic method supplemented by additional research methods, and she devised a typology to examine four community dimension indicators which consisted of (1) public space and place; (2) interconnections; (3) social resources; and (4) cross-age relations. This typology was used to examine perceptions and interactions between two central groups in the six agrarian towns, the oldtimers and the newcomers.

By testing the neighborhood hypothesis which concerned the process of the towns functioning as class-segregated neighborhoods in a small-city commuting zone, Salamon supports her thesis of the emerging post-agrarian community landscape by revealing the differentiation among the agrarian towns, the population specialization within the agrarian towns, and features of the emerging post-agrarian social fabric. According to Salamon, this new social fabric consists of towns located in productive agricultural areas, but generally lacking social and economic attachments to the areas. In addition, Salamon argues this new social fabric causes agrarian communities to become post-modern in nature, where lives are fragmented, attachment to land is seen as personal property or as an investment, and where the agrarian social fabric and values are being transformed.

In this readable and well-researched text, the strengths include an acknowledgment of earlier studies of community by Ferdinand Tonnies, Max Weber, Georg Simmel and Emile Durkheim. Salamon presents a clear discussion of the community ethnographic approach, the factors resulting in the selection of the six agrarian towns, and conceptualizes important terms used in her argument which include town, community, neighborhood and the post-agrarian social fabric.

The richness of this text is further revealed when Salamon discusses the social interactions and the construction of "communityness" experienced by the oldtimers and newcomers. The interactions between both groups and the construction of meaning concerning "communityness" reveal stages of oldtimer resistance, acceptance or engulf-ment by the post-agrarian transformation. Salamon's discussion of "boosters" and "pro-growth coalitions" used as development tactics by the townspeople to attract economic development provides a discussion of political and economic factors often cited in the urban sociology literature and reinforces her argument that these six agrarian towns are changing from agrarian towns to post-agrarian communities.

The weaknesses of the text concern the timing of the research, the availability of health care and the emergence of a post-modern social life affecting the residents of the six agrarian communities. Salamon admits that the community studied for the six agrarian towns were completed before 1995, although the examination is presented in present tense. This approach may raise some eyebrows about providing the most recent snapshot of social change and "communityness" occurring in the agrarian towns, particularly since the research examines processes associated with the transformation from agrarian towns to postagrarian communities.

Unfortunately the discussion of an important social institution vital to all residents, the availability of health care, is very brief. Again, although the focus is on social change and the sense of community experienced by residents in the six agrarian towns, more discussion of the changing aspects of health care availability and delivery would have contributed to her well-reasoned argument. Finally, Salamon's discussion of the emerging postagrarian community is linked to post-modernism. By linking her argument to this theoretical and contentious term, a more focused examination of post-modernism and how it is affecting (or not affecting) the oldtimers in the six post-agrarian communities would have strengthened the argument about the emergence of the postagrarian community.

Newcomers to Old Towns: Suburbanization of the Heartland provides a much needed analysis of social processes and social change affecting the six agrarian towns in the state of Illinois. The effort of conducting six case studies and the wealth of research cited in the text are commended. It would be interesting to see if the study could be replicated in other rural areas of the United States, a possibility Salamon leaves open. This book is recommend this book for students and faculty interested in rural community studies, and social change; as well as courses in urban sociology, rural sociology and community and economic development that includes a rural community component.

Joseph A. Deering

Missouri House of Representatives
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Author:Deering, Joseph A.
Publication:Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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