Suburban Landscapes And Suburbanites: A Structurationist Perspective On Residential Land-Use In Northern Westchester County, New York

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Agnew



Subject Categories

Human Geography


The aim of this dissertation is to address the classic problem of specifying the relationship between social structures and human agency in geographical context. The greatest challenge in dealing with this problem lies in avoiding structural determinism on the one hand and individualistic explanation on the other. The approach taken involves first drawing from social theory a set of concepts to be criticized and modified accordingly. Second, a case study which employs the conceptual scheme is presented. It involves specification of the mutually causal interrelationship between practices of individuals and societal-scale structures. The complexity and level of generality of the theoretical problem is such that a single research project can illuminate only certain aspects of it. Accordingly, in this work I have attempted to do no more than investigate an aspect of the inter-relationship between small scale socio-political structure and certain attitudes of some of the people whose actions and nonactions contribute to producing and reproducing the structure. The socio-political structure, especially its ideological components, is itself biased in such a way that it contributes to these same attitudes.

The research project consists of a case study conducted in Westchester County, New York. It investigates the role of the residents' actions and attitudes in maintaining a suburban environment which is characterized by an idyllically beautiful landscape artificially maintained through exclusionary practices which are largely unquestioned because of an individualistic ideology shared by a dominant group which has access to this landscape as well as others who are denied access. The study investigates the attitudes of 150 residents representing a cross-section of the population of four adjoining towns. Interviews elicited opinions about the process by which a suburban landscape is constructed, maintained and changed. It is suggested that these popular views are self-fulfilling and contribute to the maintenance of this exclusionary landscape. I suggest that residents tend to reify, that is take for granted, many of the structural factors in the reproduction of these landscapes. This, I suggest, is due in part to an ideological bias which tends to perpetuate enormous inequalities of access to environmental amenities within the New York metropolitan area.


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