April 26, 1999
Contact: Chris Curran

[East End]

Cincinnati -- From Margaret Mead's pioneering studies in the South Pacific to modern-day forays into the Amazon jungles, anthropologists always seem to be on the road to some exotic location to study cultures and tribes with equally exotic names, rituals, and customs.

University of Cincinnati anthropologist Rhoda Halperin has done the opposite. She spent years researching life and social change in Cincinnati's East End. The result was "Practicing Community," the first scholarly book about an urban Appalachian community.

How could Halperin find so much to tell about a community so well known to Cincinnatians? Halperin believes the ultimate cause is a prejudicial view of the poor. "There are many well-intentioned people who really don't know anything about the East End," said Halperin, referring to previous studies and reports about the community. "We were called in to do a long-term anthropological study in the early '90s."

The in-depth research took a team of ten students and lengthy interviews to document the family, social, and economic structure of the community. During that time, the East End had become a developer's dream with its historic homes and prime riverfront views.

In fact, Halperin discovered that long-time East Enders actually nicknamed the upscale, up-the-hillside residents "the view people." Literally and figuratively, these high-income residents looked down on their poorer neighbors. That prejudice was reflected in early descriptions of the East End official reports and "action plans" that stung a very proud and close-knit community.

"I didn't know I was illiterate until I read it in the report," said one resident. Another took the offensive, writing poetry to demonstrate her literacy and to describe the community's struggle to survive in the face of social change. Halperin calls her "the poet laureate of the East End" and quotes extensively from her work in "Practicing Community."

From battles with the bureaucracy to neighborhood safety to new development plans, the poems sum up what Halperin and her students found.

On government battles:

I've been asked by some: what about the city I can't believe
For 25 years our community has been deceived
No money for infrastructure have been received
If they had shown some concern for residents, I would be relieved
On speeding in the East End:
Our children and our elderly are special to us as yours are to you
If this was your neighborhood, you would be concerned too
You know the speeding must stop, so why not take your cue
Take care of our safety so we don't have to hear the words
"code blue"
On hillside development:
View people our homes are all we got
Have you thought about this of course not
We know our land is real hot
Outsiders quit acting like you hit the jack-pot

The individuals living in the East End are not identified by name, for reasons of confidentiality, although Halperin exhaustively documents family relationships and their economic ingenuity. She said the book was a logical follow-up to "The Livelihood of Kin: Making Ends Meet 'The Kentucky Way,'" a book where she documented the economic pathways that supported a diverse Appalachian community stretching from near-urban to deep-rural areas.

"Class discrimination has been a very important issue," said Halperin. "My goal has been to dispel the negative stereotypes. There are complex strategies for survival which are also used in the East End." The strategies are summed up by the title "Practicing Community." Halperin said a new concept was needed, because many abstract concepts in anthropology didn't accurately describe what she and her students found. It's a day-to-day struggle to care for children and the elderly, while finding time to earn enough money to maintain a home in an area where land prices are increasingly on the rise.

Halperin was a featured speaker at an anthropology session on "Third World Cities" last December and just returned from a keynote address in Rochester, New York, where anthropologists are building on her research.

Research News Archive
General News Archive
Public Relations Home Page
University of Cincinnati Home Page