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Dorst, John D. The Written Suburb: An American Site, An Ethnographic Dilemma. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.
In The Written Suburb, University of Wyoming American Studies professor and folklorist John Dorst examines Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, as a collection of texts or discourses. This post-modern ethnography describes the production of this multi-layered ethnographic site and the site’s inhabitants’ conscious use of their self-produced ethnographic texts instead of the texts’ meanings. Dorst’s central contention is “that the historical conditions of advanced consumer capitalism have occupied the ground upon which ethnography as a special enterprise has traditionally been based” (204); in other words, the people engaged in the culture have created their own meaning embedded texts and used these texts to shape their lives. The Written Suburb examines tourist souvenirs and brochures for Chadds Ford, the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, the community’s “Chadds Ford Days” celebration, and several other contemporary Chadds Ford spaces using a theoretical framework influenced by, among others, Roland Barthes and Frederic Jameson. In combining popular culture and fine art, present and historic tourist practices, as well as tourist and local traditions, Dorst emphasizes the validity of all of the competing texts and discourses that surround Chadds Ford. Although Dorst’s description of this suburban Pennsylvanian community is fascinating and may lend insight into other suburban spaces, this text’s greatest value is as a guide for future post-ethnographies. The Written Suburb suggests ways to identify and understand other postmodern locations. [K. Park