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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Ordinary hardworking folks: Economic restructuring and the making of populist identities in a Maine small town
by Pied, Claudine, Ph.D., City University of New York, 2011, 325; 3478774
Abstract (Summary)

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.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Mullings, Leith
Commitee: Lindenbaum, Shirley, Maskovsky, Jeff
School: City University of New York
Department: Anthropology
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
Publication Number: 3478774
ISBN: 978-1-124-96608-3
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