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WTF Rural America? Geography. Culpability. Trump.

Thu, November 9, 8:00 to 9:45am, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Skyway 260, Skyway Level East Tower

Session Submission Type: Paper Session: Traditional Format


During the post-mortem of the 2016 Presidential election, pundits routinely pointed to a growing divide between rural and urban voters in the United States as one way to explain the unlikely emergence of His Orange Highness, Donald J. Trump, as the successor to America’s first African-American President. Reductive references to “America’s forgotten men and women” and “smug coastal elites” circulated freely on both the right and left as convenient short-hand descriptors for supposedly distinct constituencies within the imagined electorate. Other commentators emphasized the need to focus on tensions between so-called “identity politics” and class-based arguments as a way to better understand the psychology of voter decision making. Still others highlighted the constraints of collective decision-making in the digital age: click bait and fake news had cultivated political bubbles, we were told, and these bubbles merely consolidated and intensified already existing political attitudes and affect. In sum, the post-mortem of the 2016 presidential election was all about creating interpretive resources meant to help Americans explain of Trumpism as a political effect. These interpretive resources are now being used to frame the rules of partisan engagement in the early days of the Trump administration.

To make sense of Trumpism, those conducting the election post-mortem described political divisions in terms of spatial measurements such as demography, rural-urban continuum codes, and exit polling. In turn, assessments of rural and urban voters have come to depend upon foundational assumptions regarding the relationships between (un)even space and spatialities, mobilities, and geographies of resistance. As a consequence, narratives around electoral data increasingly presume the relative stability of meanings attached to “rural” and “urban” publics, spaces, and politics. Instead of taking these terms as intrinsically meaningful, however, participants on this panel aim to reflect on how such categories are being constructed and remixed in our current political conjuncture. Using the current climate as exemplar to the broader milieu of contemporary culture, the panelists will discuss the political potential of rural places—not only as spaces where political dissent is happening, or could, but also as sites of complex discursive production.

What pedagogies of dissent are made possible through critical ruralities? Jae Basiliere centers the production of knowledge in red-state classrooms, particularly around discourses of race and and education. In the wake of public commentary warning of “bubble publics” and the need for public reading lists to challenge political fragmentation, E Cram interrogates the popularity of rural memoirs such as Hillbilly Elegy in comparison to minor cultures of circulation and community place based story-telling. Colin Johnson evaluates the formation of “the American outer class,” as the ideological commons of contemporary populism, a lateral operation of power shaping Trump supporters’ consent to plutocracy. Gabriel Rosenberg reads the public reception of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Ellegy as a form of “hillbilly horror,” highlighting how the memoir attunes readers to a rural grotesque rather than complex political economy of rural spaces. Nadine Hubbs will offer a summary and response to the panelists papers.

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