As early as I can remember I was interested in learning about “where people came from.” When I was very young, this was more personal and conceptual—“I hear where you’re coming from, sure. Thanks for sharing that perspective.” As I grew older, the personal morphed into the ideological, and my appetite for studies in hegemony and morality led me to delve into theory-based work on ideas like the American Dream and stereotypes of white trash. By the time I completed my BA in English literature (emphasis on “white trash religion” in Modern American literature) I was hooked into the idea that someone should be spending her professional life looking at these concepts.
Then, two days after I defended my MA project in Religious Studies, I found myself sitting in an office for my first meeting, ever, with a cultural geographer, hearing that this whole time I should have been in a geography program.
It’s a wonderful feeling 48 hours after successfully defending several years of work in one discipline to hear that in fact the sweaty, stinky feeling your project could have been better is accurate. I suspect many people have this feeling at the close of an advanced degree program. During my entire masters track I commiserated with friends from various schools and disciplines about how it felt like we were ripping through drywall rather than using the door to get to core methodologies and approaches that resonated with each of us. This, I learned, is a necessary stepping-stone in academia. Today I still find drywall dust in field notes, reading lists, and my hair as I make my way through the travails of ABD life.
But when I met with my first cultural geographer something clicked: I could connect all of this conceptual positioning, these ideological landscapes, with the cultural landscapes in which people actually live! Most geographers and anthropologists (and, frankly, scholars of religious studies) probably consider this an obvious point (“Bless your heart”), but that realization opened up a whole new door for my academic meandering. And in that meeting, two days after I defended my MA, I asked where I should look for a doctoral program. Within a minute I received a short list, and LSU was at the top.
To be clear: I am a lot of things. But I am not from the South. Having traveled throughout the US and lived in various locations (New England, New York, the Rockies, California), the idea of LSU’s geographic position was intimidating. I envisioned damp, excessively air-conditioned reading and writing binges in my basement (Ha! basement!) apartment, all the shades drawn to hide my pasty Yankee face from the ever-blooming subtropical climate. One future colleague described Louisiana humidity as “the feeling of sucking whipped cream through your lungs.” I did not find that enticing.
When I came to LSU for my campus visit, however, for the first time in my academic career I felt like I had a place I could call my professional home. Faculty and staff from various sub-disciplines of the department were friendly and willing to answer questions. The student community within the department gave me the sort of welcome that I thought existed only in stereotypes of southern hospitality, and asked questions about my interests that made me feel like I could contribute to a community of interested and interesting scholars. And during that visit my personal fears about moving to the area quickly melted.
Most importantly, the people I met during that visit, showed me that all of the nagging feelings I had about empirical aspects of the American Dream and stereotypes could and should be studied within geography and anthropology. And during my time here the students, faculty and staff have all proven to be the best kind of professional home for me. In addition to my own dissertation research I’ve benefited immensely from working on qualitative studies of coastal Louisiana’s cultural traditions and their interaction with Louisiana landscape. In addition to multiple fieldwork opportunities from numerous faculty members, the department has also consistently encouraged me to explore opportunities for enhancing my grant writing and pedagogy skills.
For my dissertation project I’ve had the opportunity to engage those longstanding ideological interests with lived experiences of the cultural landscape, to which I owe my professors and peers a great deal. I look at the idea of the American Dream and idealized landscapes of home that play a part in it. Within that, I ask: How do (and do?) mobile homes fit into that? How do popular ideas about mobile homes, and their residents, reflect idealized landscapes? What are the material and personal issues for people living in mobile homes and/or working in mobile home-related industries? And what can all this illuminate about white paradigms of normative space? Through G&A’s diverse methods and approaches I’ve received knowledgeable support in visual and qualitative methods, archival studies, content analysis, and participant-based research, and have been able to fold these approaches into my work.
For those interested in coming to LSU for the geography and anthropology program, here are the highlights for me: The joint program promotes in-depth understanding of the development of geography and anthropology. The faculty promotes multidisciplinary research and approaches. LSU’s numerous archives and cultural studies resources, as well as its various theme-focused research programs provide invaluable supplemental support for projects. The emphasis on understanding the entirety of the disciplines in which we work better equips me to understand my own part in the larger academic sphere, and enables me to engage with informed conversation during important professional networking opportunities. All of these experiences have enhanced both my dissertation project and my career opportunities in general. If you have questions about the program please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
PhD Candidate in Geography and Anthropology
Mobile Homes and the American Dream: Space, Class and Race in Idealized Landscapes of Home
Academic Interests: material and public cultures, landscape, stereotypes, American Dream, mobile homes, race, class, qualitative methods, whiteness studies, pedagogy
Other interests: community and city development, pedestrian and bike-friendly advocacy, evening porch time with good eggs, nonacademic (what!?!?!) reading and writing