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Title:Small city neighbors: race, space, and class in Mansfield, Ohio
Author(s):Goebel, Alison D.
Director of Research:Lugo, Alejandro
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Lugo, Alejandro
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Farnell, Brenda; Moodie, Ellen; Roediger, David R.
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:This dissertation investigates social relations in a small deindustrializing city to analyze the socio-spatial specificity of class, “race relations,” and small city “cityness” within the United States. I base my arguments on research conducted over five years (2005-2010) in Mansfield, Ohio—a multiracial, class stratified city of about 50,000 residents. The central aim of this dissertation is to demonstrate that small cities—and how they cope with race, class, and space—offer anthropologists and cultural theorists a rich and necessary perspective on sociocultural processes within the United States. I make the case that comprehensively acknowledging urban variation strengthens our analyses and understandings of social phenomena that occur in urban settings and elsewhere. This research project is indebted to, and engages with, anthropological studies of class, race, and the city. My arguments are grounded in an “ordinary cities approach” (Robinson 2006), which refuses to hold conventionally named “global” and “world” cities as the unmarked category against which all other forms of urbanity are measured and, instead, broadens understandings of cityness to embrace a multitude of difference. I utilize discourse analysis to do fine-grain analyses of informants' speech while simultaneously situating, in relation to one another, national processes of middle class white privilege, the lived practices of race, class, gender, and space under global capitalism, and Mansfielders’ subjective interpretations of middle class whiteness. I use ethnography, history and Census analyses to nuance dominant narratives of deindustrialization and to highlight the socio-spatial particularities of global and neoliberal capitalism. I conclude that Mansfield's small size and industrial history has made it particularly susceptible to the destabilizing effects of current economic restructuring processes, but that new opportunities for select residents have arisen also from the city's specific socio-spatial histories of space, race, and class. My research in Mansfield contributes to studies of whiteness and U.S. race relations by examining from multiple angles, the ways whiteness hierarchically structures social relationships among neighbors. In analyzing how whiteness, especially middle class white dominance, responds to pressures that seek to undermine its privileges, my dissertation offered a small city-specific view of U.S. race relations. While my dissertation captures ordinary, idiosyncratic particularities of the fieldsite, it also recounts consequences of global neoliberal capitalism and white racial privilege that are common throughout the United States. Two themes dominated my research findings: neighborly relations and notions of trust (which shape encounters between neighbors) appear frequently in the text because these discourses were central to the ways residents created and understood interpersonal interactions. Moreover, these twin frames—neighborliness and trust—conditioned the ways residents interpreted, navigated, and, at times, reproduced larger structural processes like class inequalities, racial hierarchies, and the spatialization of difference. By ethnographically analyzing small city neighborly relations and notions of trust, this dissertation complicates and expands dominant representations and theorizations of “the city,” capitalism, and U.S. racial formations. By examining how Mansfield's socio-spatial dialectics of cityness, class, and whiteness simultaneously produce projects that reinforce social disparities and moments that resist hierarchies of privilege, my dissertation argues that small cities provide critical insight into some of the most pressing concerns in American society: whiteness and racial hierarchies, class stratification under neoliberal capitalism, issues of neighborliness and trust, and how these processes become spatialized.
Issue Date:2011-05-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Alison D. Goebel
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-05-26
Date Deposited:2011-05

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