Sunday, January 13, 2008

Making the Scene:

Making the Scene: The process behind the cultural-amenities study

The three University of Chicago academics first looked at hundreds of different cultural amenities, including theaters, art galleries, jazz clubs, bookstores, museums and even liberal arts colleges. The resulting list stretched across approximately 40,000 zip codes, stemming from a comprehensive compilation of firms culled from the standard Yellow Pages, the methodology they deemed the most beneficial to the project’s approach."It’s not really correct to say you don’t have a scene if you don’t have firms," admits Rothfield in discussing the limitations of the method. "Obviously there’s a lot of street-level activity that doesn’t get into the business section of the Yellow Pages… that’s one level we’re sure we’re undercounting, since we can’t measure the level of street music or what kinds of clothes the people on the streets are wearing." For example, in the case of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the sixties, he explains that, concerning "the head shops and poster shops, we would have gotten a little bit of it… but the actual street life is hard to get." He adds: "Scenes like raves that are illegal or quasi-illegal [are hard to detect]… As long as you have people meeting someplace but they’re not institutionalized enough to appear in the Yellow Pages, we’re not going to catch that." Nevertheless, Rothfield is quick to assert that in general "the presence of particular sorts of firms is an indicator there is some kind of scene present."

Once the amenities list was compiled, the next step was to assign values to each of the types of amenities (jazz club, cultural center, etc.) based on three major categories, divided into fifteen subcategories and assessed on a scale of 1 to 5. (Individual idiosyncrasies of a location were not taken into account; a jazz club here and a jazz club in LA would receive the same fifteen scores.) The major classifications—Legitimacy, Theatricality and Authenticity—were each split into five further classifications; for example, "Transgressiveness," "Glamorousness" and "Neighborly" all fall under the Theatricality branch of categorization, whereas "Corporate" and "Local" are examples of Authenticity and "Egalitarian" and "Self-expressive" are subdivisions of Legitimacy. Each amenity was then judged based on each of these fifteen subcategories, and assigned a value: 5 meaning the amenity displayed the qualities of the category, 3 meaning it was neutral and 1 meaning it displayed the opposite qualities. The values for all of the amenities of a neighborhood were then added up, and each category’s total was divided by the number of amenities to get the average values for the neighborhood. These fifteen average values of a neighborhood’s subcategories could then be compared to other neighborhoods or to "ideal" levels.As for determining what categories to use, which categories correlated to which types of neighborhood, what types of neighborhoods exist and where the lines of distinction should be drawn, the process was lengthy and proved to be the most difficult of the project’s tasks. "We spent over two years on that [aspect]," Clark recalls, explaining how they performed scientific processes to see where they disagreed and why. The categories—Legitimacy, Theatricality and Authenticity—stem from a history of sociological research, dating through Weber, Heidegger and countless others. And as for the neighborhood types, or "scenes"? These emerged from less obvious sources: primarily literature, music and other cultural creations. Thus, one such scene is described as "Renoir’s Loge," which values institutions like art schools and opera. Another is described as "Wagner’s Folk." But not every scene correlates to a high-culture allusion—for instance, what Silver terms the "NASCAR Scene" lies (obviously) outside these parameters

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University of Chicago

University of Chicago
Lawrence Rothfield, Dan Silver, Terry Nichols Clark