Theory and Society

, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 437-468

First online:

Virtuous marginality: Social preservationists and the selection of the old-timer

  • Japonica Brown-SaracinoAffiliated withSociology Department, Loyola University Chicago Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Social preservation is a bundle of ethics and practices rooted in the desire of some people to live near old-timers, whom they associate with “authentic” community. To preserve authentic community, social preservationists, who tend to be highly educated and residentially mobile, work to limit old-timers’ displacement by gentrification. However, they do not consider all original residents authentic. They work to preserve those they believe embody three claims to authentic community: independence, tradition, and a close relationship to place. Underlining their attraction to these characteristics are resistance to the evolution of neighborhoods and towns, and the notion that certain groups have a greater claim to authentic community than others. These beliefs, and, secondarily, local institutions and boosters, influence their preservation of certain groups. While the quest for the authentic is typically viewed as affirming the authenticity of its seekers, social preservationists measure the authenticity of others’ communities against their own in authenticity. That is, they are committed to virtuous marginality, which exists when people associate authenticity with, and highly value, characteristics they do not share, and consequently, out of a desire to preserve the authentic, come to regard their distance from it – their marginality – as virtuous. This article reveals the consequences of definitions of authenticity, and more generally of ideology, by demonstrating how they shape preservationists’ lives, particularly their experience of community.