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Title:Adaptable lives: agency and accountability in a cancer cluster town
Author(s):Atkins, Laura Beth
Director of Research:Jung, Moon-Kie
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Jung, Moon-Kie
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Zerai, Assata; Cacho, Lisa M.; Denzin, Norman K.
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Environmental health
Collective action
Risk perception
Abstract:This dissertation provides an ethnographic account of the experiences of residents living within the cancer cluster town of Clyde, Ohio, where over 50 children have been diagnosed with or have died of cancers of the brain and central nervous system since the mid-1990s. My entry into the field coincided with the filing of a lawsuit against the town’s largest employer, a Whirlpool Corporation plant, after the discovery of nine feet of toxic PCB sludge at a former community recreational park built by the company. Drawing on in-depth interviews, archival documents, and government reports, I examine systems of power at work within the community that hamper a collective sense of community subpolitics. Using a grounded theoretical approach to analysis informed by risk theory, I discovered that community-level responses to risk echo national logics that promote the concepts of deterrence and avoidance of harm as matters of individual preventive choice. Within a cultural context where efforts towards pinpointing the toxins responsible for the elevated cancer rates in Clyde have failed and there exists an imperative for self-protection that is impossible to achieve, residents experience serious psychosocial and practical conflicts as they adapt to the impact of cancer on their families. Furthermore, although risk and awareness of risk have penetrated the dialog of everyday life, townspeople have largely adapted to risk as a way of life rather than working to eliminate it. Examples of this are seen in the modification of residents’ consumer and lifestyle choices, and the participation in an evolving system of support from the community’s schools, businesses, and churches. I offer a theoretical framework for understanding the process through which the community changed to accommodate risk rather than to substantially alter it. This research bridges sociology and public health, and responds to a long-standing call to incorporate social theory into social epidemiological studies. It advances both the understanding of the ways in which residents are influenced by interactions with the State, as well as the occurrence of collective community inaction in cases of environmental contamination.
Issue Date:2017-04-21
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Laura Atkins
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-09-29
Date Deposited:2017-08

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