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Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment [Hardcover]

Ethan Watters
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 30 2003
When he hit his 30s, journalist Ethan Watters began to realize that none of his friends was following his or her parents' paths. Instead of settling down in couples and raising families, they lived in groups, started businesses together and vacationed en masse.

While documenting this generational phenomenon, Watters encountered "tribes" from all over the U.S., each with its own dynamic and social mix. He takes us inside "family life" within some of these close-knit groups and explores why tribe members embrace this structure, showing that the conventional wisdom painting Generation X as isolated, selfish slackers may hide an unexpected, warmer picture.

Urban Tribes is a major sociological investigation that radically challenges the way we think about contemporary life in North America.

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Product Details

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Watters parlays his 2001 New York Times Magazine think piece and subsequent Good Morning America appearance into a debut book, a sociological examination of the pleasures of a segment of his generation-the "yet to be marrieds" ages 25 to 39. They're the ones who live in bohemian garrets yet feel affluent because their baby boomer parents will probably leave them their money. They host great New Year's Eve parties and travel en masse to the New Orleans Jazz Festival. They're the "Burning Man" generation, drawn like lemmings to the annual desert art festival. Demographers call them "never-marrieds" and say they're one of the fastest-growing groups in America. Most tellingly, in Watters's view, the habit of establishing "urban tribes"-rotating networks of friends and acquaintances-covers all functions formerly served by the traditional family, thus eliminating the need for marriage and intimacy. It's often a white, upper-middle-class, post-college phenomenon (Watters attends a Philadelphia Cinco de Mayo celebration to which, he notes, no Hispanics have been invited), but, finds Watters, "groups that formed later, during the swirl of adult city life, could sometime[s] match the remarkable diversity of those communities." He refutes claims by sociologists that modern youth has lost the civic-mindedness of previous generations by describing urban tribes' "different style[s] of giving back." He also delves into the eternal conundrum of why men don't like to commit, consulting average Joes and psychologists alike, and questions the "stigma of single life." Sure, these issues have been raised before, but Watters's breezy writing and sunny optimism are refreshing, and his evocation of the good times of San Francisco's dot-com boom years has period charm to burn.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Playful without being ironic and meaningful without being sappy, Urban Tribes will be a seminal book ... This book will give hope to a generation that's been mislabelled as apathetic and lost." -- Po Bronson, New York Times bestselling author of What Should I Do with My Life?

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shallow pop sociology June 14 2004
By A Customer
This is a book that started out as a magazine piece and probably should have stayed there. It's sloppily edited, repetitive and presents a grab bag of anecdotes as if it were a serious analysis of social trends. It's an attempt at social science without the science.
While the title concept is appealing and has some promise--I can think of "urban tribes" that I know of--it's the execution of this concept that is disappointing. While the book is entertaining at times, it's not based on much. And, sadly, the author seems to buy in to the notion that singles in their 20's and 30's are just biding their time until the inevitable: marriage. He pays almost no attention to people who don't desire marriage, or to gays and lesbians who may want to get married but can't.
Although the phrase "urban tribe" conveys a certain cutting-edge hipness, Watters' underlying premises are about as square as they come. How sad to think that time with friends is just a means of marking time until one gets married, or that being single in one's late 20's or 30's should be a cause for desparation or angst. I'd like to think that marriages/serious partnerships and meaningful, lifelong friendships can co-exist more harmoniously than Watters implies.
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2.0 out of 5 stars don't believe the hype Feb. 18 2004
By the time the reader realizes that Urban Tribes doesn't even merit the genre "pop-sociology", he/she is sucked into the narrative of Ethan Watters' personal quest for meaning. The first several chapters explore human social behaviour in a form that many young adults are familiar with. With self-congratulatory tones, we read about how our post-college lifestyles have been beneficial not just to ourselves, but to the world. I, for one, wasn't concerned about whether or not my lifestyle had meaning and had never sought to prove its worth. This author, however, was clearly very concerned about the merit of his choices and uses the first half of the book to demonstrate that the Urban Tribe lifestyle is both steeped in human sociology and a novel way to deal with the vagaries of singlehood in the early twenty-first century. Even this section, while peppered with statistics, consists mainly of anecdotal evidence.
The second half of the book descends into personal narrative. Although I did find it quite amusing, Ethan's exploration of male/female relationships as they pertained mostly to himself and his friends did not as I saw it further the message of the earlier part of the book. I laughed as Ethan attempted to navigate various pop-psychology theories about mating, particularly when he tried to convince his friends that evolutionary psychology should dictate the rules of the game. Then there is his analysis of the latest dating advice books, such as The Rules. I hadn't realized that anyone had taken them seriously, but there was an astonishing amount of articles pressuring women to marry. It is all very entertaining.
At the end, as Ethan describes his happy marriage and the transition from tribe-life to married-life, I felt dissatisfied.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Hard to get through the first/second chapter Jan. 7 2004
By A Customer
I decided to review this book even though I haven't finished it. I don't need to finish this book to know that it's very shallow and does not offer complete insight in the so-called URBAN TRIBE. After the first chapter I regretted that I bought it.
As I began reading the book, I got the strange feeling that somewhere I had already read this book or something similar to this book...little did I know. I'll come back to that later. Even though I knew nothing (or cared nothing) about the Burning Man event, I plowed through, hoping I would find something of interest. As a 34-year old black female, I had no interest in the Burning Man. I had actually hoped that the book would be more about ALL of us who have never been married, black, white, Hispanic or other. Turns out, the only folks who will be able to identify with this book are those of a particular subset of white culture. I thought this would be a book that EVERYONE could see themselves in. It's not. Please, if you're interested in understanding what the "Friends" and "Seinfield" folks do AFTER the shows are over, check this book out of your library. Don't spend money on it.
As I was saying earlier, this book sounded familiar because one of the author's best friends is PO BRONSON, author of What Should I Do With My Life, or something like that. Yeah, I bought that book also, thinking I could identify and maybe I could find someone like me. I couldn't. It turns out that Mr. Watters and Mr. Bronson and 15 of their closest friends share a loft/workspace of some sort in San Francisco. They're all writers, artists and other creative types. It's obvious that they all rub off on each other because Mr. Watters' book sounds so much like Mr. Bronson's book. Different subject, but same group of people.
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Reading Ethan Watters' Urban Tribes is like watching an investigative report analyzing the characters and groups depicted in sitcoms such as Friends or Seinfeld.
When I watch these shows I often ask myself, do similar groups or relationships actually exist in the real world?
Apparently, they are alive and kicking, and Watters cleverly has named these groups "Urban Tribes," of which he personally was a member.
When you consider all of the facts that shape these groups, the author has convincingly shown that they are in fact an important trend, although they have their advantages and disadvantages.
The author tells us that the members of his group had a relationship with him; however, they also had distinct relationships with each other. "These relationships created an intricate web of lives that added up to more than the sum of the friendships. It was not a loose group of friends but a single entity of which he personally was a critical part."
The group activities that they enjoyed was not the only element that kept them together, there was more to it.
In fact, Watters does confess that he initially erred in describing these groups and had probably fallen into the trap of simplistically trying to define them.
Looking at these groups from the outside, it is difficult to conceive of them as a national trend.
After all, there is no membership rolls, official meetings, no organization sponsoring them, no money to be made in their promotion, or as the author succinctly states, "whatever forces created urban tribes seemed not to come out of a conscious, directed process."
Groups also differ among themselves when it comes to cultural style and interests.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars kind of insulting
I felt duped. This book is not about "urban tribes" so much as the author, a newly married father writing about his playboy days and the friends he used for emotional support. Read more
Published on March 7 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars I wish I could give this book MINUS 3-star review!
The fact that this book got published defies comprehension. It's poorly written, the author is completely unlikable and self-absorbed, and it's supremely repetitive. Read more
Published on Jan. 19 2004 by wsimmie
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about time
Finally someone sees something positive in our friendships. Watters has validated an important time in my life when I was focused on my friendships and not yet settling down in... Read more
Published on Dec 16 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey worth exploring
You meet the damnedest people stuffing envelopes at the headquarters for the American Association of Single People, doling out licorice whips in the Black Rock Desert, and trolling... Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2003 by Alex Wellen
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and contemporary
Ethan Watters has written a book about an interesting topic that has just recently begun to draw national attention: those of the current generation who are in their late twenties... Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2003 by Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty
1.0 out of 5 stars Blow harder
Self indulgent self justification, anyone? This "analysis" of a "social trend" is focused on the thinnest demographic slice of our nation's population. Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read BV (Book Value)
Must Read BV (Book Value): 'Friends' in-depth in 256 pages (instead of 30 minutes every Thursday)
Ok, so I have to admit it up front. Read more
Published on Oct. 15 2003 by Chuck Bradley
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and insightful
The best part of the book are the personal anecdotes and life stories integrated into the broader theme of the book. Read more
Published on Oct. 14 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars repetition, repetition, repetition (but no insight)
When I purchased this book, I thought that it would be an interesting exploration of people like myself--urban professionals who are in their late 20s and early 30s and unmarried... Read more
Published on Oct. 8 2003
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