Living on the Labor of Others: Workforce Development, Underdevelopment, and Racial Ideologies in Rural South Carolina
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
EmbargoRelease after 08/14/2028
AbstractManufacturing has come to dominate the economic and employment landscape of rural South Carolina. The state’s plantation economy origins gave way to manufacturing with mechanization and the Great Migration, along with mid-20th century campaigns to develop the state by recruiting industry (Cobb 1993). But people who live in the state’s rural, Black Belt counties continue to live out the legacies of enslavement, in the form of failing infrastructure, poor educational outcomes, and higher rates of poverty and unemployment (USCB 2022; SC DEW 2022). Poverty remains intact, even as economic developers attempt to remedy these economic woes by offering tax subsidies and a cheap, non-union workforce to industries considering locating to South Carolina (Kingsolver 2010, 2016). The specific contours of racial capitalism in this region shape the contemporary creation of this ideal, low wage workforce. Drawing on ethnographic data, including archival materials, I trace the emergence, evolution, and contemporary operation of racist ideologies in rural South Carolina, as they are mobilized to discipline workers. Specifically, I explore how racist ideologies emerged in educational programs in this underdeveloped region within a racial capitalist labor regime. Looking at racist ideologies at the nexus of underdevelopment, labor, and education allows for an investigation of the co-constitution of racism and capitalism. Drawing on analyses of racism and capitalism that emphasize their inseparability (e.g. Fields 2014; Robinson 1986), I demonstrate that, because the racist ideologies we inherit from the past were formed to control and discipline laborers, they are particularly well-suited for the task of controlling labor today. Here, I emphasize the tendency of racial capitalism “not to homogenize but to differentiate” (Robinson 1986, 26), arguing that historical racist ideologies impact white workers, even as they are mobilized to more sinister ends for Black workers specifically. I argue that Black and white Southern workers living in the rural Black Belt are exploited through racial capitalism, sharing in the day-to-day impacts of more than a century of white supremacist political decisions and the legacies of a plantation economy, even as their experiences of this exploitation are markedly distinct.
Degree ProgramGraduate College