Suburban Dreams: Imagining and Building the Good Life
Published by: University Of Alabama Press
Imprint: University of Alabama Press
Available: November 2021
264 Pages, 152.00 x 228.00 mm, 17 B&W illustrations
Not Yet Published
Starting with the premise that suburban films, residential neighborhoods, chain restaurants, malls, and megachurches are compelling forms (topos) that shape and materialize the everyday lives of residents and visitors, Greg Dickinson's Suburban Dreams offers a rhetorically attuned critical analysis of contemporary American suburbs and the "good life" their residents pursue.
Dickinson's analysis suggests that the good life is rooted in memory and locality, both of which are foundations for creating a sense of safety central to the success of suburbs. His argument is situated first in a discussion of the intersections among buildings, cities, and the good life and the challenges to these relationships wrought by the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The argument then turns to rich, fully-embodied analyses of suburban films and a series of archetypal suburban landscapes to explore how memory, locality, and safety interact in constructing the suburban imaginary. Moving from the pastoralism of residential neighborhoods and chain restaurants like Olive Garden and Macaroni Grill, through the megachurch's veneration of suburban malls to the mixed-use lifestyle center's nostalgic invocation of urban downtowns, Dickinson complicates traditional understandings of the ways suburbs situate residents and visitors in time and place.
The analysis suggests that the suburban good life is devoted to family. Framed by the discourses of consumer culture, the suburbs often privilege walls and roots to an expansive vision of worldliness. At the same time, developments such as farmers markets suggest a continued striving by suburbanites to form relationships in a richer, more organic fashion.
Dickinson's work eschews casually dismissive attitudes toward the suburbs and the pursuit of the good life. Rather, he succeeds in showing how by identifying the positive rhetorical resources the suburbs supply, it is in fact possible to engage with the suburbs intentionally, thoughtfully, and rigorously. Beyond an analysis of the suburban imaginary, Suburban Dreams demonstrates how a critical engagement with everyday places can enrich daily life. The book provides much of interest to students and scholars of rhetoric, communication studies, public memory, American studies, architecture, and urban planning.
"Studying the suburbs is not new, but despite venturing down a semi-beaten path, Dickinson has written an intriguing study of the peripheries. . . . The suburbs often take a backseat to cities, despite their interrelatedness, and Dickinson astutely puts the suburbs back in the forefront. The references are impressive. Highly recommended."
"For a richly current sense of today's suburbs caught in spirals of economic doubt and leaning outward to capture locality amid the increasingly global crush of contradictory forces, Greg Dickinson's newest work provides essential reading."
-Rhetoric and Public Affairs
"Suburban Dreams represents an original contribution to rhetorical studies. It cements Dickinson's existing reputation as one of the foremost authorities in rhetorical studies on the rhetoric of space, place, and consumer culture."
-Bradford Vivian, author of Public Forgetting: The Rhetoric and Politics of Beginning Again and Being Made Strange: Rhetoric Beyond Representation
"Greg Dickinson has for some time been on the leading edge of research into the communicative and rhetorical dimensions of space and place. This book extends that important program of research by considering American suburbia, a long-standing target of scorn and dismissal. Dickinson skillfully analyzes how suburbia serves as a locus of desire, motivation, and affiliation by its detractorsHe is able to place the suburb at or near the center of American popular culture, and his work will demand fresh attention to that space/place. This book will be of interest to scholars in rhetoric, communication studies, geography, American studies, architecture, and farflung students of the city."
-Barry S. Brummett, author of Rhetoric in Popular Culture, Techniques of Close Reading, and Rhetorical Homologies: Form, Culture, Experience