Social typing is a very ordinary activity. As Alfred Schutz (1967, 1970) viewed it, it is part and parcel of everyday life, not just something that sociologists engage in, which was Weber's perspective. Social typing is a way of sharing with others the common sense of personal actions. For example, when we say that a particular activity is the "typical" behavior one sees in a specific group of people, it turns these actions into a general category of action, something into which other activities could be placed.
Everyday, mundane experience is interpreted through an individual's knowledge of the world around him or her, and the ability to cognitively place behaviors into ideal type constructions, or "typifications," as Schutz termed them. These ideal types form the basis for the ability of the individual to recognize and place other persons into typical, known, categories based on behavior, action, characteristics, and motives. Schutz explains that "all forms of recognition and identification, even of real objects of the outer world, are based on a generalized knowledge of the type of these objects or of the typical style in which they manifest themselves" (Schutz, 1970, pp. 118-119). Heritage (1984), referring to Schutz's phenomenological sociology, presents a similar argument, suggesting that, "Actor's [social] type constructs are the (revisable) yardsticks in terms of which their experience of the world is organized and upon which they must rely in order to make sense of a world in which they must act" (p. 52).
Here I am concerned with the role that social types play in the construction of community in a senior public housing neighborhood called Shady Grove. Everyday social typing regarding personal troubles is prevalent in Shady Grove. My view is that these social types, constructed around troubles, are an important ingredient in community formation. In Shady Grove, social types arise out of the commonly discussed troubles of the residents, talk of which builds its community. It is this talk, or "troubles talk," that forms the very anchor around which the types common to the neighborhood are constituted.
However, the types are not simply there as preexisting categories, but are continually called into existence in talk and social interaction among residents. To phrase it differently, the typical is mobilized. By engaging each other in conversation, residents discuss, organize, and artfully articulate social typifications common to the neighborhood. In doing so, residents express varied views on the types, artfully constructing the very existence of the types indigenous to The Grove, and applying them in ways that produce and give meaning to the behavior and action of other Grovers. Each of the common social types of Shady Grove are recognizable subjects of troubles talk by residents. As the Grovers talk of each other, there is a recognition of the common subjects which trouble them and the behaviors that constitute the subjects under discussion.
In Shady Grove, the use of social types serves as a means through which residents specify shared identities by establishing comparison structures. The social types become ways of interpreting and categorizing the normal activities of Shady Grove residents, typifying particular identities and artfully constructing the normal, typical form. As Gubrium and Holstein (1997) note, "categorization devices ... present commonsense models for depicting what culturally known types of people are like, and how members of such categories may be expected to behave" (p. 142).
Grover types provide a commonsense means through which comparisons can be made between residents and expectations ordered. If one is thought to be of a particular social type, then the device is used to give order and coherence to particular actions vis-a-vis the actions of other specific social types. In doing this, "standard pattern rules" of behavior are applied in anticipation of distinct actions by specified types (Smith, 1987).
While there is continual social typing in Shady Grove, this paper is focused on two at the center of the typing process: "cooped-up women" and "animal people." More than any other indigenous types, these inform Shady Grovers of who they are and, by contrast, who they are not. Their common recognition in everyday talk, I maintain, is an important ingredient of the residents' shared sense of identity, informing them of their commonality as Grovers.
2. Setting and method
Shady Grove is a small public housing complex in a medium-sized city in the Southeastern United States. Built in 1985, the neighborhood is relatively invisible to the average passerby. Easily ignored from the street, it is located on a side road located off of a main thoroughfare. The area is surrounded on all sides by student apartment complexes establishing a noticeable contrast between Shady Grove and the rather flamboyant architecture of these complexes. No sign demarcates the area as public housing. In fact, the name Shady Grove has been informally assigned to the neighborhood from the name of an apartment complex adjacent to the public housing area. The area is not named in any federal documentation pertaining to its construction or funding. Due to the absence of any signifying marker, such as a sign, there is nothing to make Shady Grove recognizable as a public housing complex.
The neighborhood itself is constructed around two main cul-de-sacs. The cul-de-sacs are lined with red brick buildings housing four units each. Each unit has a small porch in the front, though the porches are rarely occupied. The residents here do not "hang out" on the porch, a very visible signaling of community. Many times physical barriers are erected or hedges grown to maintain privacy. For those porches still open to the naked eye, only a selected few display any furniture. There are few flowers or gardening areas in Shady Grove. In short, it is a rather barren and plain place. Based on current literature in architectural and landscape architectural design, community should not exist in Shady Grove. Due to a lack of architecturally enhanced interaction areas, community should certainly be a hard thing to come by in The Grove.
At the time of my entrance into The Grove, 32 of the available 34 units were occupied. The average age was 72.8 years, with the youngest resident 53 years of age and the oldest 90.26 of the residents were female. A total of 23 residents were white, 4 were black, 1 was Latina, and 4 were of Asian descent. While not engaged with all residents, I spoke with 20 of the residents on a regular basis, the others less frequently.
All data were gathered during 10 months of participant-observation fieldwork in the neighborhood. During this time, I ran errands for residents, drove them to local hospitals and doctors, etc. The majority of my time was spent in the Grovers' own units, talking with them about daily life in The Grove, their own wants and needs, and their concerns with a wider social world. As an ethnographer, I worked to let the residents speak to me of their daily lives from their own perspectives and in their own words. While obviously involved in interactions with residents, certainly affecting where talk led, all efforts were made to remain true to this goal. (1)
My interest in Shady Grove as a research site, and community as a whole, was fueled by a number of gerontological studies of the aged and community formation. Works such as Dorothy Jerrome's (1992) book Good Company: An Anthropological Study of Old People in Groups, and Jennie Keith's (1977) study of a French retirement home, Old People, New Lives: Community Creation in a Retirement Residence, provided a needed backdrop from which to embark on my own foray into the aged and community. Of all of these studies, however, it was Arlie Hochschild's (1973) ethnography of a senior public housing building in San Francisco, The Unexpected Community, which provided the impetus for my work in Shady Grove. From the field site of an elderly public housing residence to the very way Hochschild …