A Great Place to Raise Kids: Interpretation, Science, and the Urban-Rural Debate. (Book Reviews).
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2001 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774|
|Issue:||Date: Winter, 2001 Source Volume: 10 Source Issue: 2|
|Topic:||NamedWork: A Great Place to Raise Kids: Interpretation, Science, and the Urban-Rural Debate (Book)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Bonner, Kieran|
Montreal, Kingston, London, Buffalo: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997.
241 +xii pp.
The widely accepted aphorism that rural communities are a great place to raise kids is used by Kieran Bonner as a means of reflecting on the state of sociological scholarship in the urban-rural debate. Inquiring into the conceptualization of rurality, and the meaning it has for parents, provides the author with the framework for a critical examination of the theories that distinguish town from country and how the relationship between the two have changed over time. Interviews and informal conversations with parents from the rural settlement of Prairie Edge, Alberta are used as a backdrop to help illuminate the question of smallness of place and its relevance in effecting a sense of community.
The chapters of the book are organized into four major sections. Part one is an attempt by the author to understand the preference for rural parenting by reviewing the theoretical contributions of such scholars as Marx, Tonnies, Simmel, and Weber. He traces the origins of the urban-rural debate and discusses the shifting meaning of rural within the context of modernity and our current technological society. Alex Sim's concept of rurban is introduced to draw attention to changes in small-town rural culture and the blurring of the distinction between city and country.
In part two, Bonner focusses on alternatives to the standard methods of scientific research in his examination of the claim that rural location offers an advantage in child rearing. He discusses the use of discovery and interpretation paradigms in the creation of knowledge as outlined by Stephen Littlejohn, and points out the limitations of relying exclusively on empirical methodologies in doing research. A more radical interpretive sociological approach is recommended, one that recognizes the interplay between empirical validity and social reality, while incorporating phenomenological, hermeneutic, and dialectic methods and theories into the analysis.
Building on the meaning of rurality in the parental "life-world", in part three the author demonstrates that parents' value of children's visibility within the rural community is interrelated with notions of safety, convenience, and reduced anxiety. High visibility implies less anonymity, with the added effect that the supervision of children can become a responsibility that is informally shared among the residents of the community. The resulting reduction of fear and stress is cited by some parents in Bonner's study as giving them the confidence to grant more freedom and independence to their children. The author argues that the shift from considering child supervision as the exclusive responsibility of parents to extending it to the community results in the perception of a rural advantage in child rearing as a self-perpetuating belief. He is critical of the strictly utilitarian sentiment that lies at the heart of this belief, and argues that researchers in particular must acknowledge the multiplicity of li fe worlds when considering the value of rural communities as places to live.
The last section, part four, uses postmodern theory as a way of critically examining the socio-historical influences that sustain a consumer relationship to place. Bonner points out that individuals assess their actions in terms of personal advantage, choice, and opprotunity. Advances in technology permit one to easily move between city and country without sacrificing the benefits of modernity, and thereby transcending the particularity of place. Thus, family decisions can be contextualized within the framework of living in a consumption-driven, technological world. Consumerism can be seen as nurturing an instrumental relationship to place that is indifferent to a sense of identity and encourages a reality that is meant only to satisfy personal needs.
In the concluding chapter, Bonner makes his most compelling argument about consumer society's shallow regard for the particularity of place and its promotion of size. He is concerned that size is being used as a determining variable in considering the suitability of location. Intimacy and anonymity are attributes found in both urban and rural environments. What is important to understand is how cooperation and participation contribute to the concept of the whole community and one's place within it. What smallness of size does make possible is having one's actions "become part of the common property of the town rather then the private concern of the individual."
This book is recommended for anyone interested in rural communities and understanding the qualities of a small town that have meaning for its residents. The theoretical discussion constitutes a fascinating perspective on the discourse concerning the urban-rural continuum of human settlements, and, as such, should have a wide appeal to professionals and graduate students alike.
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|