RETHINKING URBAN POVERTY: A DECONSTRUCTION OF THE SUBURBS

Open Access
Author:
O'Connor, Siobhan Amy
Area of Honors:
Geography
Degree:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Lakshman S Yapa, Thesis Supervisor
  • Roger Michael Downs, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • suburbs
  • ecological
  • poverty
  • poststructuralism
  • Foucault
  • Derrida
  • feminist theory
Abstract:
The way we imagine housing in this country has been organized in a very powerful binary: the suburbs and the inner city. Whether looking to the Chicago School’s influence on sociology and urban planning or pop culture films, the affluent suburbs are constantly being pitted against the poor inner city. A conventional approach to urban poverty studies the immediate geographic area where poverty is. But, if our understanding of the city is in opposition to the suburbs, the suburbs too offer utility for exploring urban poverty. This thesis, which stemmed out of experiences as a participant in a service learning project—The Philadelphia Field Project—and follow-up research, examines an upper class suburb as a way of understanding poverty in the inner city. Tracing the suburbs history, we can see how they were able to secure such a privileged place in the United States’ cultural landscape. Then, in light of Foucauldian power structures that uphold the suburbs, we can begin to deconstruct and shift the categories of suburban versus urban. There are no essentialized suburban or inner city experiences; the binary is both a false and damaging one. Demonstrating the breadth of the suburban experience is one way to destabilize the category. The larger point of entry for this poststructural exercise is the ecological. By auditing an actual suburban community in Bucks County, it becomes apparent that the culturally hegemonic conception of the suburbs not only is detrimental to the inner city, but also cannot be sustained on its own. The demonstrated resource intensity of this way of living shows that the resources do not exist for the entire nation to live in this way. Deconstructing this metropolitan binary—drawing heavily on Derrida and feminist scholars that have given his theory greater utility—through the ecological point of entry, we create space for other housing conceptions in lifestyle conversations and political movements—if not space for the actual suburban homes themselves.