The economic recession and the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 unleashed right-wing movements characterized by populist claims that political leaders are neglecting the interests of American “ordinary folks.” Though recent developments have spurred this reaction, even before the economic recession, populist ideas and politics influenced the people and communities struggling to adjust to the insecurities of the new economy. Based on research conducted in 2006 and 2007, this dissertation explores the relationship between conservative populism and economic decline through the story of a predominantly white former manufacturing town in central Maine.
Though there was not an organized populist movement in central Maine when I was conducting research, appeals to “the people” for limited government influenced political battles over community development and town budgets. Well-intentioned community revitalization leaders deepened the divide between themselves and “ordinary townspeople” as they worked to develop a competitive post-industrial town with a thriving downtown, bustling farmers market, and expanding population of artists and “professionals.” Several sets of ideologies informed these politics; namely, individualism, valuing hard work and struggle, whiteness, and the idea of the small town as a place safe from poverty. But this dissertation counters perceptions of individualism and hard work as prefigured American or small town cultural ideals. First, these ideas are contested. Just as workers attributed value to working hard, struggling, and persisting through difficult times, they also blamed their economic troubles on structural economic change, their employers' low wages, and greedy corporations. Second, decades of neoliberal politics and the experience of surviving on low wages influenced individualism and class consciousness. Alongside increasing economic insecurity, for example, local programs taught “soft skills” and state and national campaigns demonized welfare recipients and praised the hardworking Mainer. Ultimately, reacting to economic decline as “ordinary hard working folks” weakened the role of class as a framework to explain life in central Maine under advanced capitalism.
|Commitee:||Lindenbaum, Shirley, Maskovsky, Jeff|
|School:||City University of New York|
|School Location:||United States -- New York|
|Source:||DAI-A 73/02, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||American studies, Cultural anthropology|
|Keywords:||Class, Economic restructuring, Maine, Neoliberalism, Populism, Whiteness|
Copyright in each Dissertation and Thesis is retained by the author. All Rights Reserved
The supplemental file or files you are about to download were provided to ProQuest by the author as part of a
dissertation or thesis. The supplemental files are provided "AS IS" without warranty. ProQuest is not responsible for the
content, format or impact on the supplemental file(s) on our system. in some cases, the file type may be unknown or
may be a .exe file. We recommend caution as you open such files.
Copyright of the original materials contained in the supplemental file is retained by the author and your access to the
supplemental files is subject to the ProQuest Terms and Conditions of use.
Depending on the size of the file(s) you are downloading, the system may take some time to download them. Please be