Home, work, and capitalism in the Rustbelt

 

My dissertation asks how historically working-class communities in the United States navigate and narrate economic shocks which transform local places. For rural Iron County, Wisconsin and urban Chicago, Illinois external connections derived from one natural resource—iron—and its regional, capitalistic relationships. When the globalization of the steel industry permitted corporations to shift the weight of capitalistic growth away from the Midwestern iron and steel commodity chain between 1960-1990, these places were unlinked, cut off, and divested.

Even without their economic raison d’etre, these communities continue to function; in both locations, at least one-third of the original population remains and both are experiencing steady in-migration.

My dissertation analyzes the interplay of the mobility of capital and the stability of working-class labor in post-industrial landscapes. This project explores the historically-situated, social construct of home as a point of connection between state and corporate decision-making, former workers’ experiences, and the material, cultural, and infrastructural processes that shape economic and environmental futures. I argue that the spatial, market, and cultural processes that historically developed these two communities consequentially rendered them vulnerable to economic precarity. To elucidate these processes, I draw on ninety in-depth interviews with local and dispersed millworkers, miners, and their families, archival research, and participatory ethnographic observation in both post-industrial landscapes.

I incorporate public sociology into my research practice.  Listen to my 2017 podcast, broadcast on WJMS Hurley, Wisconsin, here.

Read a recent article based on my dissertation research, “We made the choice to stick it out,” published in The Journal of Rural Studies, here

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