Please join us for our last meeting for the Fall Quarter of the Money, Markets, and Governance Workshop on Tuesday, 11/29, 4:30-6PM, in Social Science Research Building classroom 401.
Amanda McMillan Lequieu
PhD Candidate, Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
From Paternalism to Precarity: Living the Decline in the (Aspirational) Middle Class
Discussant: Wan-Zi Lu
PhD Student, Sociology, University of Chicago
Abstract: In this dissertation chapter, I analyze material and ideological conceptions of class devolution in two communities formerly integral to the 20th century, Midwestern steel commodity chain. The rural case, a former iron mining county in northern Wisconsin, experienced an early wave of deindustrialization in the 1960s. The urban region that imported much of its ore, the southeast side of Chicago (now the 10th ward), faced mill closure between 1980 and 2001. The closure of the anchor industries in these two communities bookended an era of global transformation in class, labor, and social reproduction. Gone were the days of the mass working class rising together towards middle class wealth and security. In its place arose a more precarious form of work, characterized by labor ‘flexibility,’ weakening unions, and social inequality. Labor precarity continues to characterize what is left of the working class, according to many contemporary scholars.
I ask after the mechanisms fostering precarity and how residents themselves deal with its costs. Towards that end, I situate my qualitative research of two formerly middle class communities within a Polanyian conception of global historical change. I draw on interviews, ethnographic observation, and archival research to trace commonalities among the lived experiences of former workers and long-term residents impacted by the transformation from an era of social protectionism to one of re-marketization. Considering the iron commodity chain provides us a time-capsule into how residents who had fully bought into the middle-class dream negotiated both the objective decline in wealth and its consequential, subjective ideological gap.
Questions and accessibility concerns can be addressed to yanivr at uchicago dot edu