Knowledge@Emory interviewed Peter Kilborn about his book “Reloville: Life Inside America’s New Rootless Professional Class.” The term “Relos” refers to the growing group of American professionals who move every three or four years for a job. Kilborn researched the book during a fellowship with Emory’s Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life.
Q: Do Relos represent another rip in America’s social fabric?
Kilborn: They do, but in the greater Atlanta area, for example, the effect is limited to a small number of communities where Relos make up a sizeable part—arbitrarily, I’d say 20 percent or more—of the population. For Relos, communities are just places to sleep. So they demand little of the community, beyond good schools for their kids, but likewise contribute little. They’re part of a wider phenomenon that Robert Putnam cites in his book, "Bowling Alone." Americans are so busy with their personal lives that they can’t make time for the community, like participating in a bowling league. Relos are even more harried than Putnam’s Americans. Before they can become involved with a community—after finding homes, schools, doctors, churches, the mall—they’re gone.
Q: What does Relo culture say about our perception of “community?”
Kilborn: It says we have less community, if by community we mean places with interacting people. But Relos are also redefining community. Their community might not be a geographic spot on the map. It might consist of their cross-border links to others with similar interests. Electronics engineers, for example, might identify with other electronics engineers, all members of associations of engineers, across the globe. They interact on the Net and at group gatherings. Those of their children who have lived abroad often don’t identify with a place or even a country. They call themselves “third culture kids.” But many of them, too, engage with other kids via electronic links—Facebook, My Space, email, texting, and so on.
Read the full interview.