Scenes: Social Contexts in an Age of Contingency*
Scenes: Social Contexts in an Age of Contingency click to display or download

Scenes: Social Contexts in an Age of Contingency*Scenes: Social Contexts in an Age of Contingency


Daniel Silver, University of Chicago

Terry Nichols Clark, University of Chicago

Clemente Navarro, Universidad Pablo de Olavide


Word Count: 9846

September 21, 2007



This research has been supported by the Fiscal Austerity and Urban Innovation Project and the University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center. 



This paper develops an innovative social science concept, "scenes," to complement urban class, race and gender studies. Scenes grow more important in a less industrial, more expressively-oriented and contingent society where traditional constraints fall and self-motivated action around consumption, leisure, and amenities is a more important feature of social cohesiveness and interaction. The scenes concept furthers previous atomistic approaches to cultural amenities by analyzing unique combinations and networks of amenities. Scenes contextualize the individual through amenities and consumption-based expressions of shared sensibilities as to what is right, beautiful, and genuine. This framework adds to concepts like neighborhood, place, and work by specifying 15 dimensions of the urban “scenescape”: 5 of legitimacy, 5 of theatricality, and 5 of authenticity. Like neighborhood, place, and work, scenes reduce anomie, but, because of their focus on consumption and the use of specific amenities, they are more consistent with today's ethos of contingency, moving beyond traditional ideas of the fundamental power of social, family, and occupational background. The authors introduce a new amenities-focused database to measure and analyze scenes and their 15 dimensions for each of some 40,000 U.S. zip codes. They illustrate the framework by applying it to one distinct type of scene, bohemia, and analyze its position in the broader social system using the scenes database and framework.