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From the Lesbian Ghetto to Ambient Community: The Perceived Costs and Benefits of Integration for Community

Japonica Brown-Saracino
Social Problems
Vol. 58, No. 3 (August 2011), pp. 361-388
DOI: 10.1525/sp.2011.58.3.361
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Page Count: 28
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From the Lesbian Ghetto to Ambient Community: The Perceived Costs and Benefits of Integration for Community
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Drawing on an ethnography of queer women in Ithaca, New York, this article documents the perceived costs and benefits for a minority group's ties of changing attitudes, identities, and legislation. It reveals that despite the high proportion of queer women in Ithaca most informants report disappointment with "community." However, this disappointment does not correlate with a dearth of affective local ties; queer women detail a wealth of supportive ties to heterosexual and queer neighbors. Informants' simultaneous disappointment with "community" and rich local ties emerge from: (1) a shift from identity politics and networks to emphasis on shared cultural, social, and political tastes and activities; (2) the breadth of the queer female population; and (3) queer women's successful integration into Ithaca's social, cultural, and political spheres. From informants' perspectives these conditions weaken "real" community, which they associate with homogenous place-based networks of marginalized individuals, and promote a strong sense of ambient community: feelings of belonging and connection that arise from informal, voluntary, and affective ties—largely fashioned around shared tastes and activities and predicated on a sense of safety and acceptance—forged among heterogeneous proximate individuals. Contra the prevailing expectation that place-based ties best flourish among marginalized individuals who share a dominant identity and formal institutions, the article demonstrates that when social and cultural conditions change local ties change, too—they do not simply disappear. Social and cultural shifts alter the foundation of local ties and informants' assessment thereof.

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