The Consequences of Economic Disparity in a Resort Community: Examining the Stratification of Cape Cod

By Stocker, Darren K | Sociological Viewpoints, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

The Consequences of Economic Disparity in a Resort Community: Examining the Stratification of Cape Cod


Stocker, Darren K, Sociological Viewpoints


Abstract

As with many resort communities that line the coasts of our nation, each possesses its own history and culture that is unique to its geographical location. Cape Cod, the leading seasonal tourist area in Massachusetts, provides a large portion to the economic base of the Commonwealth. The rich history, extensive cultural attractions, pristine beaches, beautiful ocean vistas, and an aura of wealth, however, overshadow the hidden challenges among its disadvantaged and deprived. This paper will examine how escalating housing prices, limited employment opportunities, and other socioeconomic issues that confront its inhabitants make the reality of living at a resort area, both complex and demanding.

Introduction

This paper seeks to dispel the conceptualization of resort areas as being solely inhabited by aristocrats and social elites, the social struggles of the working class and the poor in these locales that are generally perceived as play-areas for the privileged and influential. The focus is on Cape Cod, one of the original settlements of Europeans, in the 17th century and now a protectorate that is divided between the wealthy, the working class, and the poor. As Winslow (1968) notes, classes are always conflict groups. Although there is little [noted] social conflict of a significant magnitude between the wealthy and the working class, there is certainly a latent divergence between these two social positions. This separation is apparent in the influence, prosperity, and standing for the pedigreed and the absence of these factors for many traditional Cape Cod Yankee inhabitants. As Americans however, we are, according to Messner and Rosenfeld (2006), socialized to accept the allure of pursuing the goal of material success and are encouraged to believe the chances of attaining the "dream" are high enough to rationalize a persistent dedication to this cultural goal. It is perhaps because of this intrinsic and fundamental ideology that a foundation of always working harder to achieve the "dream" exists, and that few challenges cannot be overcome and the realization of success will be achieved. The foundational premise of social class is that everyone exists in an environment in which there are expectations or demands and has certain amenities in order to remain in congruence with others in society (Lui 2002). But, as Rank and Hirschl (2001) indicate, affluence and poverty in many respects symbolize the attainment of the American Dream or the realization of the American nightmare. Social status is a crucial aspect of how you see yourself and how you present that self to others (Hess, et al. 2001).

When attempting to conceptualize the notion of class in America, Leonhardt and Scott (2005) outlined the attributes of social status in this manner:

Class is a rank, it is tribe, it is culture and taste. It is attitudes and assumptions, a source of identity, a system of exclusion. To some, it is just money. It is an accident of birth that can influence the outcome of a life. Americans barely notice it; others feel its weight in powerful ways.

What may be most alarming about this statement is the dilemma associated with exclusion, power, and the lack of a positive identity and the feelings and conjecture associated with a negative label or by simply being invisible in an exceedingly visible culture that is dependant upon vacationers and sightseers. The image often observed is that which is frequently portrayed in tourist literature, travel exposure, and through the spontaneous direction of others who want to represent the buoyant cultural attractions that are offered in the resort communities. Although the area is not lacking in cultural beauty and affluence, there is a clearly defined pervasive underclass that is suppressed, however, dependent upon by the advantaged.

Collins and Veskel (2000) note that some argue that inequality is a relative problem and that society should not so concerned with the gap as with the overall improvement in our standard of living. …

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