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Abstract

The role of physical space in social life has been a part of sociological research for over a century. However, this role has often been ambiguous. Qualitative researchers often provide rich accounts of individual spaces, such as Anderson's A Place on the Corner, whereas quantitative researchers often develop grand spatial models of collective behavior, such as Butts' Generalized Location Systems. Here I introduce a new analytic object, termed a venue, that allows us to extend and unify research involving these different spatial scales. Venues are discrete physical spaces with an ostensible purpose and material culture, such as a restaurant. They are presented as a pivotal component of a multiscalar model of social behavior that integrates both the smaller spaces that host social situations and the geographic regions that constitute communities into a coherent analytic framework. To demonstrate this pivotal role, I first describe how venues facilitate the relationship between physical space and social possibility by providing both guidelines for social behavior and opportunities for challenging these behavioral expectations. I then explore the implications of locating venues within a larger geographic region, asking how the features of this multiscalar system can influence the lives of local residents. Specifically, I use a novel combination of geocoded survey data and census data to show how venue scarcity can shape the religious and political life of a local community. Scholars often explore these topics through the lens of ideological commitment, but I find evidence that the materiality of everyday life also plays a role in these behaviors: Communities with fewer venues of a certain type (e.g. supermarkets, drug stores, etc.) are home to (1) residents that are more likely to be socially embedded in their relgious congregation, (2) residents that are less likely to vote for a Republican Presidential candidate, and (3) religious congregations that are more likely to offer secular activities such as hobby groups and sports teams. Based on this evidence, I argue that venues are a useful analytic tool for understanding how the multiscalar role of physical space comes to shape the social life of local communities and their residents.

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