Filling in the Blanks – Research Update #5

What began as difficulty gathering the thoughts and ideas necessary to write a meaningful research paper has turned into a challenge of navigating which concepts can actually fit while still pushing the intended argument forward. Investigating broad-reaching systems like neoliberalism and colonialism has thrown the possibility of my discussions wide open, which is both a positive and a negative. My primary objective is to explore how the structures I mentioned previously have intertwined throughout American history and contributed to (and reinforced) an increasingly dispersed hegemony. This process has resulted in the widely accepted beliefs that 1) success and effort are directly correlated, meaning those who struggle financially have only themselves to blame and 2) economic or social achievement at the expense of others is still valid and even applauded, which, under hierarchies of power established by settler-colonialism, often results in further exploitation of marginalized communities.

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Preliminary Drafts – Research Update #4

Over the course of the previous week, I have begun to construct a strong outline meant to help me as I attempt to create something tangible with the research I have conducted thus far. To be quite honest, the process has proved to be more frustrating than I originally expected. While writing in other circumstances usually involves a prompt of some sort, this project is my first experience curating theory from collected data. There is such a wide variety of important issues to discuss that relate directly to the patterns of language exposed by the Last Word submissions that are central to my project, so my next steps for this work is to better understand what my intentions are in regards to my finished publication. Several necessary components of the theory I hope to produce are already clear, including extrapolating how colonialism and neoliberal economics are intertwined in the modern era. Both of these systems are often discussed in terms of how they influence governments or economies, thus ignoring the ways they impact interpersonal relations and culture. Williamsburg (and surrounding James City County) is an especially interesting setting for studying this more closely, as its history is so deeply rooted in the United States colonial project. As the data I have collected seems to suggest, neoliberal coloniality (a term occasionally used to explain the historical overlap of the pair) has deeply altered the way humans value one another. In brief, neoliberalism’s requirement of individualistic, financially focused beings combined with colonialism’s long-established hierarchy of worth favoring the ruling class encourages the exclusion of certain bodies so that others may “succeed.” When framed by discourse surrounding potential affordable housing projects, individualized neoliberal coloniality manifests as language suggesting that only productive, marketable laborers are deserving of access to homes. Furthermore, the common vernacular regarding employment status raises the necessity of distinguishing between the problem of being reduced to one’s labor by others and the potentially liberating effect of self-identifying as a worker within a capitalist class system. Despite the challenges thus far, I am still hopeful that further navigating this line of thinking will lead to some meaningful results and provide the opportunity to learn many new things along the way.

Into the Literature – Research Update #3

After a deeper dive into the results of my review of published local opinions on potential affordable housing projects revealed an important trend regarding attitudes toward individuals facing housing insecurity, I began to explore already existing literature on related subjects to broaden my understanding. One of the most immediate and important topics that came to my attention through this literature review was that of neoliberalism as a politico-economic system and its rise to prominence over the last century. Central to neoliberal doctrine is the celebration of individual achievement, with the underlying expectation that those who have garnered success have done so through dedication and personal will. Such a premise is particularly relevant to my findings because, as discussed in previous blog posts, most opinions on affordable housing use terminology surrounding employment status to justify whether or not new developments are deserved. In other words, a person may merit stable housing only if they contribute to the local economy via productive labor. Through my research, I hope to further explore and theorize how neoliberalism–which is often discussed solely in terms of broad-reaching economics–becomes reproduced between individuals, and how this may influence the ways in which people value one another.

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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.

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Big Adjustments – Research Update #1

Although I began the summer with extravagant intentions to conduct interviews with a diverse population of Williamsburg residents on the ways in which they experience housing access, my advisor and I quickly came to the understanding that scheduling and preparing for such a grand project was a bit too lofty a goal for a mere 7-week endeavor. Luckily, after reading many of my colleagues’ blog posts, major changes to our original ideas seem to be relatively commonplace. So rather than attempting to construct the meaningful community connections necessary for an interview-based project, I have turned my attention to mainstream media and opinion articles authored by locals. More specifically, I have focused on exploring the Virginia Gazette’s Last Word column–a space where individuals can anonymously submit short blurbs or responses to current events happening both close to home and globally. Thus my original aim of extrapolating how Williamsburg and James City County residents understand, experience, and respond to the housing market has remaining largely the same, but face-to-face interactions have been replaced by commentary submitted to the Virginia Gazette.

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