The political epistemics of the rural poor
Lewin, Philip George
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While a great deal of literature has explored the conditions under which poor and disenfranchised groups mobilize against domination and exploitation, few studies have examined the processes through which such groups “consent” to ostensibly unfavorable arrangements. Those that do typically represent decontextualized veranda accounts that embrace flawed “false consciousness” narratives, reduce the poor’s behavior to misinformation and/or stupidity, and construe political understandings as isolated, independent objects. In order to develop a more theoretically robust explanation of hegemony and consent, this dissertation synthesizes Glaeser’s scholarship on political epistemology, Gramsci’s hegemony theory and Bourdieu’s practice theory in order to develop an approach to the study of “consent” that is rooted in the political understandings of social actors themselves. Drawing from nine months of ethnography, 40 in-depth interviews and a variety of historical methods, I examine three instances in which the rural poor have identified with economic and political actors who appear to harm them. I investigate why residents of Shale County, an economically distressed community located in Central Appalachia, exhibit support for officeholders who have openly abused local government; identify with coal mining despite the negative externalities that the industry has imposed upon their community; and vote for Republican politicians who have targeted the economic aid on which they rely for elimination. Departing from existing work, which attributes the politics of the rural poor to culture war, religious extremism, media indoctrination, and false consciousness, my findings suggest that consent in Shale County has taken shape from the way in which “modernization” has unfolded in the county over the past 60 years.