(This is just a quick and dirty notice, which I will extend later)
I was tooling around the local college library the other day looking for things that might help flesh out my comparison of Traverse City and Montana and I found a couple of very interesting items, one was a community survey that was done over the course of a few years in the 1990s which had a lot of good data on “Bowling Alone” sorts of issues. We’ll talk about this at some later point.
Another was Changing Places, the doctoral dissertation of a fellow by the name of Brian Hoey from the anthropology department at the University of Michigan. I found it funny to think of an anthropologist studying us up here in exotic Northern Michigan as if we were a bunch of hunter-gatherers in New Guinea. Somehow it didn’t seem altogether far-fetched.
But, humor aside, the thing is full of interesting observations, good real-life stories of “lifestyle migrants,” and contrary to all my previous experience with doctoral dissertations, the thing is actually readable and the author is identifiable as a real human being.
Hoey combines a number of qualities that make him an interesting start on a discussion of TC. Because he is a university trained anthropologist who has studied in the field in Indonesia as well as in Traverse City, he has cultivated the ability to see his subject at a certain remove, to contextualize northwest Michigan—historically and culturally—in a way many editorial-letter-writers seem to find impossible.
Though Hoey’s kind of ethnography relies on extensive interviews and prolonged with his subjects (northern Michiganders), it also relies on a cerain distance and objectivity.
But, in spite of Hoey’s academic credentials, he’s a peer with his subjects. He’s here not just to do a job, but because he wants to be here. He, too, is a lifestyle migrant, he, too, loves the lakes, and sailing, and the small town atmosphere. And as he finishes his dissertation Hoey, like many other well-educated young people in northern Michigan is about to enter a job market that has little call for his expertise.
All in all Hoey’s dissertation gives us some great information about what people are looking for coming to this area, what they are running from, and what they most value. Hoey is a great tool for making explicit what so often goes unspoken in this area.
We need a frank and sustained discussion of what we value about this place and what values are going to shape our future.
There are of course reasons why we have not had this sort of discussion in the past. One is that there has always been a tension in this town between natives and newcomers. But it is important taking a “deep time” perspective, we all got here relatively recently. This area was really only extensively settled by whites in the years after the Civil War. And the native population didn’t grow up out of the earth, either—who knows what violence might have occasioned the settlement of this area by the Ottawa and bands that whites found here in the early days of colonialism?
But since the 1970s, there has been a marked increase in in-migration to the area, and it is no coincidence that this was the heyday of white flight from the inner cities to the suburbs. The flight to TC can be seen as a more or less “extended white flight.” (Though it must be noted that Hoey himself finds mostly deeper and more laudible motives in our migrants)
So these sorts of discussions immediately bring up two subjects that are rather uncomfortable. The naked self-interest of the shut the door behind me phenomenon, the internal tensions between pre-WWII families and those who had migrated to TC as part of the great suburban migration in the cities of the Midwest, and finally, the fact that one of the great attractions of TC was the nearly complete and utter absence of racial minorities in the area. If Richard Florida is right, though, that attraction is quickly becoming a serious drawback to our area as a place that can provide meaningful and rewarding employment for our children.