No place like home?

Grading student papers in which they gather census data on their home zip code (or alternative of their choice) and compare with the areas studied in the ethnographies we are reading – and reminded of something that I take to be a distinguishing factor between types of places and their people:

I grew up in and have almost always lived in places that are self-consciously distinct and the home to people who know that their lives are not “typical” in at least a couple of important ways. I normalized the distinctness of locale, so I was shocked the first time I heard someone say that their home community was “just like any other place” and, to be honest, I didn’t even know what that meant (not enough car trips, big box establishments, and television as a child, I guess). Still shocks me a bit when I see it in writing – the possibility that a collusion of media images, school curricula, economic and cultural segregation, selective travel, and inattention to national and global affairs results in a reality that is constructed in such a way as to give people the impression that everyone else’s lives are just like their own.

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