Initial Findings – Research Update #2

The past week has been occupied by a more in-depth review of local opinion submissions concerning affordable housing projects in and around Williamsburg and James City County. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, a trend in the use of language surrounding labor and economics became immediately apparent among both pro- and anti-housing development arguments. Fiscally related responses were expected of those writing against new housing projects (i.e., disapproval of new taxes), but the presence of comparable terminology from supporters was more surprising. Affordable housing advocates often used phrases such as “labor” or “workers” to describe the individuals that they expect will reside within potential developments, and many of them stressed the importance of providing housing in order to ensure employees of local businesses could remain in the area. Although at face value this vernacular in which people are discussed in terms of their identity as “laborer” may not appear unusual, it is the unacknowledged prevalence of such language and its implications that are of interest to me.

The Virginia Gazette’s Last Word column has proven to be a wonderful resource from which a diversity of ideas and contributions can be extrapolated, but it is also necessary to recognize its major flaws. Most significantly, the authors are entirely anonymous, which erases the possibility of extrapolating useful demographic information. Limitations such as this will certainly be acknowledged in my finalized text.

Besides the aforementioned work, I have begun sifting through archives of articles produced by local journalists for established news outlets in order to better understand the ways in which terms or phrases used by more widely read and respected sources may frame the issue. Interestingly enough, I have found few articles that feature employment status in their description of potential affordable housing project residents. This may suggest that the inclination to refer to folks according to their participation in the labor market is more culturally ingrained than mass media consumption can explain. In the coming weeks, I hope to explore these questions more thoroughly and, with the help of historical analysis and literature from a variety of sources, begin to construct relevant theory of my own.


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