The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (Hardcover)

The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life By Elijah Anderson Cover Image

The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (Hardcover)


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An acclaimed sociologist illuminates the public life of an American city, offering a major reinterpretation of the racial dynamics in America.

Following his award-winning work on inner-city violence, Code of the Street, sociologist Elijah Anderson introduces the concept of the “cosmopolitan canopy”—the urban island of civility that exists amidst the ghettos, suburbs, and ethnic enclaves where segregation is the norm. Under the cosmopolitan canopy, diverse peoples come together, and for the most part practice getting along. Anderson’s path-breaking study of this setting provides a new understanding of the complexities of present-day race relations and reveals the unique opportunities here for cross-cultural interaction.

Anderson walks us through Center City Philadelphia, revealing and illustrating through his ethnographic fieldwork how city dwellers often interact across racial, ethnic, and social borders. People engage in a distinctive folk ethnography. Canopies operating in close proximity create a synergy that becomes a cosmopolitan zone. In the vibrant atmosphere of these public spaces, civility is the order of the day. However, incidents can arise that threaten and rend the canopy, including scenes of tension involving borders of race, class, sexual preference, and gender. But when they do—assisted by gloss—the resilience of the canopy most often prevails. In this space all kinds of city dwellers—from gentrifiers to the homeless, cabdrivers to doormen—manage to co-exist in the urban environment, gaining local knowledge as they do, which then helps reinforce and spread tolerance through contact and mutual understanding.

With compelling, meticulous descriptions of public spaces such as 30th Street Station, Reading Terminal Market, and Rittenhouse Square, and quasi-public places like the modern-day workplace, Anderson provides a rich narrative account of how blacks and whites relate and redefine the color line in everyday public life. He reveals how eating, shopping, and people-watching under the canopy can ease racial tensions, but also how the spaces in and between canopies can reinforce boundaries. Weaving colorful observations with keen social insight, Anderson shows how the canopy—and its lessons—contributes to the civility of our increasingly diverse cities.
Elijah Anderson is Sterling Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Yale University. His most prominent works include the award-winning books Code of the Street and Streetwise. He lives in New Haven and Philadelphia.
Product Details ISBN: 9780393071634
ISBN-10: 0393071634
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 28th, 2011
Pages: 318
Language: English
Starred Review. Anderson's nuanced treatment of ‘the social dynamics of racial inequality’ and his precise observations (the politics of eye contact, for example), … offer immediate pleasure, and the book is a people watcher's delight.
— Publishers Weekly

The Cosmopolitan Canopy is vintage Elijah Anderson—original, creative, engaging, and thought provoking. Once I began reading this brilliant book I could not put it down. Anderson provides an incredibly rich narrative of the interactions of city dwellers from different segregated neighborhoods—ghettos, ethnic enclaves, and suburbs—in public places. By revealing hidden social and racial dynamics, Anderson not only explains the conditions that ease racial tensions and promote interracial harmony, but those that reinforce traditional racial boundaries as well. This book is a must read.

— William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor. Harvard University

Elijah Anderson is a master ethnographer. Field research is a way of life for him, a medium through which unceasingly, over the course of many years, he has courageously explored the innermost recesses of life in an American city, especially the social worlds and the experiences of Black Americans. Once again, in The Cosmopolitan Canopy, he moves from one area of Philadelphia to another, exploring the patterns of social interaction and behavior in various public places. Anderson calls these urban spaces ‘cosmopolitan canopies’ – a concept likely to evoke lively, illuminating discussion.

— Renee C. Fox, Annenberg Professor Emerita of the Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

This is the most important book on race relations in many years. Elijah Anderson takes us behind the statistics into the scenes of everyday life. We witness front-stage performances of integration and back-stage racial ethnocentrism, as well as the venues where interracial cosmopolitan civility is constructed. Updating E. Franklin Frazier’s classic Black Bourgeoisie, The Cosmopolitan Canopy offers a gift for our pessimistic times: a book of realistic optimism.

— Randall Collins, President of the American Sociological Association

The Cosmopolitan Canopy is a richly detailed account of how the public spaces we all share can either separate or help bring us together. I strongly recommend it.

— Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund

Coverage from NPR