Elijah Anderson explores Philadelphia’s ‘cosmopolitan canopies’

Elijah Anderson explores Philadelphia’s ‘cosmopolitan canopies’

The “cosmopolitan canopy” in Rittenhouse Square. Photo courtesy of Elijah Anderson

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The latest census found Philadelphia the nation’s 9th most segregated metropolitan area in the United States. But there are still many places that bring people together, and it is those meeting grounds that Yale sociologist ELIJAH ANDERSON focuses on in his new book, The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life. From hospital waiting rooms to off-track betting parlors to Reading Terminal Market to Rittenhouse Square, Anderson’s research investigates the complex interplay in urban semi-public spaces in the city he previously explored in Code of the Street and Streetwise.

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Philly’s public spaces as a study in civility

Philly’s public spaces as a study in civility


In his new book, The Cosmopolitan CanopyRace and Civility in Everyday Life, Elijah Anderson tells of a rainy afternoon at Reading Terminal Market. He was doing what he does best – conducting a bit of folk ethnography. People-watching, in layman’s terms.

Sociologist Elijah Anderson at Reading Terminal Market, from which he drew information for “The Cosmopolitan Canopy”

But anybody who knows this sociologist knows he’s anything but a layman. Though he teaches at Yale now, Philadelphia is who he is and where he still lives. The ethnographer spent most of his professional life at Penn, where he did the research for two of his acclaimed books, Streetwise and Code of the Street.

It’s fair to say Anderson has put together a body of work that rivals only W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Philadelphia Negro for its groundbreaking insights into the African American experience in Philly.

Free Library of Philadelphia – Elijah Anderson – The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life

Free Library of Philadelphia – Elijah Anderson – The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life

The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life

Elijah Anderson

Acclaimed sociologist Elijah Anderson has been called “one of our best urban ethnographers” by the New York Times Book Review. Anderson is currently the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University and the Charles and William L. Day Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Code of the Street and Streetwise, two compelling books about life in America’s inner-cities based on research completed in Philadelphia. In The Cosmopolitan Canopy,Philadelphia is the setting for Anderson’s investigation of the complex interplay of urban social nexuses—like Rittenhouse Square, Reading Terminal Market, and 30th Street Station—that he dubs “cosmopolitan canopies.”

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The Cosmopolitan Canopy

The Cosmopolitan Canopy

The Cosmopolitan Canopy


Elijah Anderson (Author, Yale University)

Overview | ContentsInside the Book

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.