Lofland, L.H. (1985). _A World of Strangers: Order and Action in Urban Public Space_. New York: Waveland Press.

Lyn Lofland, PhD Sociology from UC San Francisco, is currently the research professor of sociology at UC Davis. She has worked throughout the UC system, as well as the University of Michigan, over the years. Her interests are in community and urban sociology, social interaction and sociology, and qualitative methods.

Celebrating the “blessed indifference” (vii) of the city and her “promiscuity” (x) of sources, Lofland sets out to understand the city’s peculiar social situation” (3). The book has two themes: first, that the “social psychological condition for urban life cannot be taken for granted” (176), and second, the city has created the “cosmopolitan,” who is able to know others categorically (177). Appearential order is determined by traditional power structures, spatial ordering is likewise enforced. We need to have an attitude of “social psychological realism about the very unheavenly creatures who will be its [the city’s] inhabitants” (177).

In Part I, Lofland uses a historical lens to examine the preindustrial city, the early industrial city, and finally, the modern city. Throughout history, there have been biophysical, structural, and temporal limitations to encountering strangers. We have categorical and personal knowing, but the preindustrial and modern cities are different for their emphases (not exclusive relationships with) on appearential and spatial order of strangers, respectively. The preindustrial city had “mixed public space use” (34) and a “spatial integration of persons” (41). The rich and poor were not so segregated spatially, so there was an “overt heterogeneity of populace” (44), distinguishable by costuming, body markings, and language. There was also spatial ordering of particular groups of people and activities, but to a lesser extent.

The petite bourgeoisie emerged in the early industrial city, redistributing (not transferring altogether) political and economic power. In addition, rural immigration, mass-produced clothing, transit/communications technologies increased/proliferated. It was the petite bourgeoisie, who, most insecure and most harassed, that set up zoning, policing, and other instruments of spatial ordering so the emerging class could protect itself. The modern city has: specialized public space use (of activities and persons), a “masked heterogeneity of populace” (79), so now we link “who” with “where.” People refer to places’ identities, their ambiance.

In Part II, Lofland turns to urban public behavior, “city dwellers in action” (93). Urban know-how matters. We need to know how to code raw data to acquire meanings re: appearances, locations, behaviors. We acquire skills, learning: how to dress, where to go, how to act. We can privatize public space through “locational transformations” (118). We create home territories, urban villages (concentrated and dispersed), and traveling packs. In home territories, we see the casual knowledge of customers, the familiar knowledge of patrons, and intimate knowledge of residents. The public space employee and colonizer use these sites for personal purposes, and express “backstage language behavior” (Goffman, 1959), and have proprietary attitudes about those sites. Employers have less authority than colonizers, but not camouflaged colonizers, and less still than pensioners, who evoke the authority of Jacobs’ (1961) eyes on the street.

Spaces are still appropriated for non-colonizer use, “thus the urbanite’s mental map is relatively unstable” (131). The urban village is the “home territory writ large” (132) and might encompass the full life of a dweller. Importantly, they are not hermetically sealed; no place exists without outside intrusion.

Dispersed villages are created through technology. Here, Lofland means the car, which allows one to “encounter” and “avoid” (136) the city at once. Creating mobile homes through traveling packs is another method for avoiding the city, because people relate to one another (with greater bravado) rather than the city itself.

Chapter 7 is about fear and the privatization of public space: the “cooperative presence of others…allows the transformation in the character of the location itself to occur” (140). The loner can’t change the public space but can change her “social psychological relationship to that space” (ibid). People undertake symbolic transformation when they behave differently in public, such as when they enter a new space or sit alone.

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Public Space, Research Fields


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