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.

Why have these landscapes failed to thrive, economically, decades after closure? And why and how do residents stay in place and navigate the consequences of deindustrialization?

My dissertation answers these questions.  Intervening in literatures of political economy, economic history, and cultural change, I analyze the interplay of the mobility of capital and the stability of working-class labor in post-industrial landscapes. 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.

The manuscript from this dissertation proposes two theoretical contributions. First, I argue that the spatial, market, and cultural processes of company paternalism present in these two communities consequentially rendered them vulnerable to economic precarity. The construction of these places as economic sacrifice zones was an intentional project of infrastructure construction/deconstruction and risk-transference on the part of capitalistic companies. Second, 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 incorporate public sociology into my research practice.  Listen to my 2017 podcast, broadcast on WJMS Hurley, Wisconsin, here, and explore photos from fieldwork (visual sociology, some might say) below.
  • 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.