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Bodies on the Edge: Representing Urban Nightlife and Corporeality in New York's Coney Island, 1900-1945

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dc.contributor.advisor Ghannam, Farha, 1963- Goldman, Matthew Kateb 2015-06-23T13:29:45Z 2015-06-23T13:29:45Z 2015
dc.description.abstract This thesis examines cultural representations of nightlife in the iconic oceanfront New York City neighborhood Coney Island, produced between the turn of the twentieth century and World War II. By looking at the night in an environment that has historically been ubiquitous with its position on city’s farthest southern periphery, and with the possibilities both valued and feared that such peripherality entails, I aim to develop a critical understanding of the links between modern constructions of urban space and time. My analysis rests on a select group of visual images, and is supplemented throughout by textual representations and other components of cultural discourse. By closely examining a 1912 commercial postcard, I argue that bourgeois imaginings of Coney Island at night constituted the spatio-temporal periphery as mutually a frontier and a margin; as a site upon which owning class interests that structured core spaces and times could be extended, and coessentially a site where seedy prospects lurked which could interrupt those interests if they were not carefully appropriated. Looking, then, at representations from the 1920s and 1930s, I question whether interwar Coney Island nightlife might have democratically liberated working class New Yorkers from the constraints of their normally regulated lives. I specifically assess the way bodies and corporealities are depicted in paintings of working class night leisure by American artist Reginald Marsh and in a few other illustrations, to contend that no such reversal occurred. These images reveal a pervasive differentiation between bodies whose material composition signified them to be economically productive, mobile, “fit” participants in a spatio-temporal frontier; and bodies whose material composition signified them to be economically unproductive markers of a seedy, stagnant, spatio-temporal margin. This differentiation – and the complicated spectrum of productivity and humanness I show it contained – fundamentally maintained, entrenched, and reproduced owning class interests despite the veneer of proletariat freedom. Coney Island nightlife during the first half of the twentieth century manifested the profound capacity of hegemonic capitalism to reorient space, time, and bodies toward its ends; and enfold even the most threatening perpendicularities on its edges. en_US
dc.description.sponsorship Swarthmore College. Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
dc.rights Full copyright to this work is retained by the student author. It may only be used for non-commercial, research, and educational purposes. All other uses are restricted.
dc.title Bodies on the Edge: Representing Urban Nightlife and Corporeality in New York's Coney Island, 1900-1945 en_US
dc.type Thesis (B.A.)

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