(Im)Mobilizing Emotions in Confrontational Times: Teachers and Media Producing Intersections of the Rural Rustbelt and Schooling

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The post-industrial rural towns of the Midwest and rustbelt regions of the United States have recently been the subject of numerous media reports. This surging media interest in Middle America from late 2016 into 2017 is a contingent representation based within our sociohistoric moment. There is an interest in rural and rustbelt locales as troubled by, in particular the ills of, white poverty. Across these representations there is an explicit focus on illuminating, giving voice, narrating, and complicating current depictions (or a lack thereof) of white rural and rustbelt experience. Yet, also across these media representations is the emphasis on narratives that frame white rural and rustbelt spaces in binaries: culpable, or not; complex, or not; erased, or not; powerful, or not. Drawing on theories of spatialities – those entwined social and spatial practices (Jones, Thiel, et al, 2016) – that consider geographies and space as contingent and infinite productions across materialities and discursive practices (Massey, 2005), I explore with elementary teachers in one rural rustbelt town notions of change, whiteness, poverty, and geography and their intersections with spatialities of teachers and schools in the rural rustbelt. For 4 years I have fostered a partnership (Campano et al, 2011) from a postcritical ethnographic stance (Noblit, Murillo, and Flores, 2004) with teachers and schools in the white majority, high poverty, rural-rustbelt county of Stewartsville, Midwest aimed at supporting curricular and professional development needs as one school responds with the ongoing social justice challenge of poverty – an area of research and public scholarship that requires the attention of educators and researchers alike (Comber, 2015). What I have found throughout my time working with educators at Morningside Elementary*, is that the work of teaching is laden with emotionality, overwhelmed by a sense of geography and whiteness, and steeped in historical sense-making alongside an anxiety about an uncertain future (Author, 2016; Author, 2017). This paper takes up the intensity of the intersection of school and community by focusing on the mobility of emotion (Lewis & Tierney, 2013) when teachers and researcher read and discuss two pieces of media: a documentary film titled “Schools that Change Communities” (Gliner, 2012) and a report published on an online left-leaning media site about the town of Stewartsville. Using mediated discourse analysis (Lewis & Tierney, 2013; Norris & Jones, 2004; Scollon, 2001) I draw on Wetherell and Potter’s (1999) argument, that the topic of research, and point of analysis, is indeed the accounting and action of doing the social, not the categorization itself – the affective intensities (Kuby, 2013; Lewis & Tierney, 2013) and emotionalities of spatial sensemaking as they come up against a single narrative (Adiche, 2009) of binaries of the rural rustbelt. These binaries point to a violence around what it means for participants to directly attend, and produce, a rapidly building accounting of their social based within histories of raced, classed, and geographical orientations to and constructions of rural and rustbelt spaces; a production that proves to be thick with affect and difference within ideologies of race, class, and space.

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Presented at the American Education Research Association Annual Convention on April 13, 2018 in New York, NY