Examining the role mobile homes play in the American cultural landscape
When you think about a mobile home, what do you picture? Mobile homes may illicit many stereotypes that extend beyond the physical structure, affecting the people that inhabit them. Dr. Annemarie Galeucia, Student & Faculty Development Coordinator with LSU’s Communication across the Curriculum and from the Department of Geography and Anthropology, shares with us her dissertation research on mobile home communities and the common misconceptions people hold about them. (Full transcript below.)
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LSU Experimental is a podcast series that shares the research and the “behind the scenes” stories of LSU faculty, student, and alumni investigators across the disciplines. Listen and learn about the exciting topics of study and the individuals posing the questions. Each episode is recorded and produced in CxC Studio 151 on the campus of Louisiana State University, and is supported by LSU Communication across the Curriculum and LSU College of Science. LSU Experimental is hosted by Dr. Becky Carmichael and edited by Kyle Sirovy.
[00:00:00.090] - Becky Carmichael
This is Experimental, where we explore exciting research occurring at Louisiana State University and learn about the individuals posing the questions. I'm Becky Carmichael. Today, Annemarie Galeucia, Ph.D. in Geography and Anthropology and Student and Faculty Development Coordinator with Communication across the Curriculum, discusses her dissertation research on mobile homes and the American cultural landscape.
[00:00:24.030] - Annemarie Galeucia
First things first. Close your eyes. Your eyes may already be closed. I don't know. I can't see you. I hope you're not driving. I probably don't want to know you're doing. But wait. Actually I'm a social scientist so of course I do. Okay then. I'm starting over. Open your eyes. Grab something you can draw with. If your tablet or computer lets you do that, all right. But if not, I mean really, actually grab a pen, a pencil, etc. Now if you are driving participate in a little mental mapping with me.
Draw me the first thing that comes to mind when I say the words mobile home. Draw me as much or as little detail as you want. Don't overthink it, just draw. I'll wait. All right then. Okay. You're wrapping up. Great. Consider that drawing you made. I'll never see it but that's okay. For every hundred of you that listens to this and draws a mental or literal picture, a vast majority of you drew or envision something similar. A box. A house on wheels. In my work, about 25 percent of my informants actually drew boxes on wheels, or wrote those words, and 85 percent of them identified the word "trailer" as one of the first words that came to mind.
Some of you may have gotten a little more elaborate, drawing yard debris, junk cars, or a tornado circling in the sky. Some of you are drawing from personal experience remembering the feel of the raised flooring or the shape and size of your room. Some of you are drawing from what you've seen and read in the media. And there are some among you who drew from both, having had an experience that matched public representations of mobile homes. There are a few of you even who probably do something different. But the point I'm making here is that common representations, stereotypes, are real.
Wow, this is shocking, right? This is, this is a real thing! And I probably could have saved a lot of time and money on grad school if I could leave it at that. But over the past several years I've been really interested in how stereotypes of mobile homes impact people's lives and of how mobile homes as a piece of material culture and as a type of home, do and do not fit into what could commonly be called the American Dream of homeownership, or in academic terms as I apply them, idealized landscapes of home in the myth of America.
I'm a cultural geographer and anthropologist. But if you want to get hyper-specific to my field you could call me an anthro-po-geographer because in academia we get to make up new words even if we don't know how to pronounce them. So what I wanted to understand is this: How do, and do, mobile homes fit into the American cultural landscape? Where do social ideas and symbols of ideas meet real consequences?What can I learn about idealized homes in the United States? Now to find an answer to this I collected thousands of pieces of news media from 2013 to 2015.
Coding a few hundred of them for themes, I performed more than 100 informal interviews with patrons from public libraries. I visited approximately 30 mobile home parks and I engaged in more than two dozen longer form interviews with people who have lived in, lived near, or worked in the mobile home industry. I want to point out here qualitative studies can sometimes also involve a lot of quantity. Here's what I learned. How we label things is important and can say a lot about what we think of things. Think about universities and historically black colleges and universities.
When we say these words together there's an invisible but profound implication. We call them historically black colleges and universities. But we don't often use the words historically white colleges. Historically white universities because a standard university is white. The implication is that white is the standard. Now this concept doesn't mind. There's a whole world of scholarship on language and power—I really dig Jane Hill's. Where my work comes in is how we label home. The word home implies the normal, average home. The site built home.
A mobile home, at least the way almost all of my informants and the media I reviewed discussing it said, is not the average home. The mobile home is seen as separate, as apart from home, and I'll get back to that in just a second. What's more negative stereotypes of mobile homes and their residents persisting common news media representations. I emphasize news media because historically news media has been required to corroborate and support their offerings in some objective way. These negative stereotypes of mobile homes and residents have real observable impacts on human experience through public policy development, social structure, and financial regulations.
Here's a really interesting thing. When participants in my study discussed the actual material elements of mobile homes: their physical resilience to bad weather, the quality of the fixtures, the aesthetics of the home and the yard, etc. These conversations inevitably morphed into a deeper conversation about the kind of person that inhabits those spaces. The discussion about the material acts at first as a metaphor and eventually as a segway into discussing the people. Now think back to that picture I asked you to draw. As you drew the mobile home, did you also imagine the kind of person that might live in it?
Did you draw them? Would you use similar words to describe the people and the house? Here's another really interesting thing. Participants often discuss the idea that mobile homes are exactly that. Mobile. And the common assumption is that the inhabitants of these homes must also be mobile, which means this: if the homes and the people living them in them are mobile they are not likely to want to be involved in the community they're currently in, since they don't intend to stay. What researchers in public policy, construction, urban planning, sociology, geography, and anthropology have learned over the past several decades is that mobile home residents are not more or less likely to be transient than site-built home residents.
But we combine these two ideas, one that the mobile home is structurally unstable and not likely to last, and two that the home and its residents aren't going to be here for long anyway, we can begin to uncover a social justification for putting public and financial resources elsewhere. This argument becomes clear when you look at years of census data and the lack of consistency in documenting mobile homes in their residents. Why track a mobile home? They aren't rooting and developing contributions to community, right? It can also be traced through zoning regulations.
We can't have shoddy work or transient people as neighbors, right? And through restricted access to manageable loans for mobile home purchases. We can't rely on these people to be financially stable for a longer term fixed loan. Nor can we trust that they'll stick around long enough to cover it. But really people who purchase mobile homes or some are subject to exponentially higher interest rates and taxes. And indeed mobile homes are often more cost effective than site-built homes. But the reality of who lives in these homes often does not match the stereotype.
Average income, average family size, likely long-term tenants, etc. are all a part of the mobile home residents demographic. Because people living in mobile homes are often identified by their house type as opposed to other demographics, they often occupy and thus represents undesirable figures of the American cultural landscape. Let's take it back to that. How do mobile homes fit into the American cultural landscape? Simply put. For all the reasons I mentioned, they don't. Which means that the people who live in those spaces experienced home in a manner that is stigmatized, that occupies an othered landscape.
The people who live in them are othered. I'm able to conclude this because after performing all of my research and identifying the parallels between how people discuss mobile homes and their residents, researching public policies and financial regulations related to mobile homes, and comparing this information to other research studies about seemingly mobile communities, the data tracks. This process of being treated as other is not unique to mobile home residents. Across the globe, there are communities that are stereotyped as being mobile, transient, uninterested in engaging broader society as productive citizens, etc. The Roma, for example, are a complex, and I emphasize complex because I respect the work that others have done in this field, group of people that have
been discriminated against in various parts of the world all hinging on the, in many cases inaccurate, assumption that they are a transient group of people that do not want to connect with the broader society. Here's what further complicates this mobile home story. The most common race stereotypically associated with mobile homes, and in fact according to most studies who actually lives there, are white people. But we're not used to talking about white people that way. Whether we joke about stuff white people like or we make justified and critical observations that white people experience tremendous undeniable systemic privilege in this country, we don't often talk about different white experiences. The paradigms of whiteness in the U.S. But we should. For one very important reason. When we unpack the intersectionality of human experience, in this case experiences of people who have privilege via their skin tone but face discrimination for their spatial identity, we can trace observable empirical mechanisms of power. And we can make informed decisions about what we are and are not okay with. From there we can identify actionable ways to address the things that we know we should change.
[00:10:17.770] - Becky Carmichael
I'm so glad you came and you're going to do this with me today.
[00:10:22.790] - Annemarie Galeucia
Thanks for having me.
[00:10:23.950] - Becky Carmichael
Of course. So tell us a little bit about who you are. What is your background? How did you get into this field of study?
[00:10:33.850] - Annemarie Galeucia
Oh that's a great question. Thanks for asking me that. Like a lot of people I have personal experience with the topics that I study. So I am a white person and I grew up in a mobile home. But I didn't actually know that that was what I was going to want to do my dissertation on and actually, my undergraduate degree is in English literature and I have minors in various humanities and social sciences fields related to whiteness and religion in the United States. And then for my master's I did a degree in religious studies focusing on American public media and public cultures and stereotypes of whiteness but specifically how white religion was represented in popular media.
So I watched a lot of the TV show My Name is Earl and then I did a Marxist analysis of their discussions of karma as it reflects traditional Abrahamic concepts of God, good and evil, so which is totally the topic for another podcast. And then for my Ph.D. I realized that while I really, really love the the mental exercise of engaging the media part, I really felt a little bit like I was missing a productive human element. So one of the reasons I love geography and anthropology is that it allowed me a physical grounding point. Like material culture something that I care very deeply about studying and to be able to start with a piece of material and then use that piece of material to extrapolate on larger social systems and the implications of those social systems has been a really, really valuable for me in terms of how I'm able to anchor social theory, how I'm able to anchor things that you sort of feel in society but you can't actually articulate them.
And so yeah, that's how I wound up getting my Ph.D. was kind of a little bit of a winding trail but through topics that I'd always been very familiar with in some fashion either personally or in a roundabout academic way.
[00:12:39.580] - Becky Carmichael
And so when you talk about a material and how geography and anthropology grounds you... so the material then in this case would have... would that be the actual kind of mobile home and the communities and the people that inhabit those areas and the perceptions of them all kind of grounded by that particular piece?
[00:13:00.820] - Annemarie Galeucia
Yes for sure that would definitely be the primary anchor would be the mobile home itself as a piece of material culture, right. And so you can you can call it material culture, you could call it vernacular architecture which would be architecture of the people that most people don't actually spend a lot of time thinking about too heavily, but from there I think you did a great job of extrapolating how by focusing on a single literal material thing and you can actually unpack it and really deeper ways.
[00:13:29.710] - Becky Carmichael
I would imagine too with...well, one I did not know that you watched that much My Name is Earl.
Then got a master's out of that. That's pretty awesome.
[00:13:41.220] - Annemarie Galeucia
I'm telling you, Religious Studies is a wonderful experimental field and I do recommend it.
[00:13:45.010] - Becky Carmichael
So I would imagine that based on your investigation and analysis of the show that that also influenced kind of where you are in terms of doing that through the Ph.D. work.
[00:14:00.520] - Annemarie Galeucia
Oh yeah for sure. All of my research, all of my research was somehow focusing on whiteness and class identity and how those play into the American cultural landscape, right. And when I was 19 years old I probably didn't call it the American cultural landscape, I probably just called it something like white trash religion. But those themes that emphasis on a lot of traditional Gramscian Marxist theory, that has been prominent throughout everything that I have encountered and so while for my master's I didn't explicitly discuss mobile homes or public policy or financial regulations,
I definitely was exploring the way that class interplayed with perceptions about white people and how media represented white people who are of a certain class, right, in this case lower class white people. And so all of that definitely ties, is a common thread through everything that I've explored. I would say that having started in modern American literature, so 20th century American literature, shifted into late 20th/early 21st century television media, it was a bigger shift for me to begin to focus more explicitly on news media. But as I noted in my segment, I like that news media at least has the facade of objectivity whereas you can't perform the same kind of, the same type of analysis, the same type of critique when somebody has created something using artistic license, right?
And you can have arguments about the implications of what's been created but you cannot say that somebody is attempting to represent the truth. Right? Whereas in news media that is actually kind of, sort of built into the tenants the media, theoretically.
[00:15:53.810] - Becky Carmichael
You know, the sides. Yeah. To be unbiased there.
[00:15:57.760] - Annemarie Galeucia
Yeah. So I like. I'm also a big fan of. I like the news and I like the material culture because they both have grounding points that have something that a person can accept as a baseline knowledge, accept as an objective thing. And we can certainly get metaphysical, and as a cultural geographer I'm really happy to talk about constructions of truth but I like that it's something that is grounding for people. And then I can extrapolate from it.
[00:16:28.030] - Becky Carmichael
I want to go toward the mobile home a little bit. The mobile home community, the individuals that we expect to be present in there.
[00:16:39.060] - Becky Carmichael
When did mobile homes become a popular form of home?
[00:16:45.540] - Annemarie Galeucia
I love this question. So it's a complicated answer because I can give you the complete history as we understand it of mobile homes and the long and short of it is that they originally started as houses on wheels that rich white people drove around the countryside in the first half of the 20th century. And actually the term "trailer trash," and this is not my research, this is a heavily researched from a public policy analyst named Alan Wallace, but the term "trailer trash" came about because these rich white people who were driving around the countryside in these houses on wheels would throw their trash on the side of the road and towns and cities didn't have any public trash areas on these roads.
People were still figuring out interstate travel. And so that negative stereotype of trailer trash actually came from affluent white people. So I always like to point that out. And then in the 1950s particularly after World War II, the United States government spent a lot more time investing in mobile homes because they saw it as easy temporary housing for people returning home from wars. They saw it as easy temporary housing for migrant workers who were doing development and construction in different parts of the country. They saw it as easy temporary housing for people relocating from different kinds of flooding or disaster components as people were realizing with rapid development that maybe they shouldn't have built on this or that floodplain or this or that other area that was not environmentally structurally stable.
And then in the 1970s when the government realized that these things were not actually all that temporary they began to get a little bit more structured in terms of how they regulated how they were built. And so that's kind of an official moment where what you might call a recreational vehicle, like an Airstream, like a real camper on wheels, a true mobile device like a true mobile home kind of veers away from the official government or regulations for how you build a manufactured home or what we commonly would call a mobile home even though ironically they're not all that mobile.
[00:18:48.960] - Becky Carmichael
I think it's interesting that you're bringing up that they first were something that was popular for traveling around. So to me it's almost like the preform of the RV.
[00:18:57.330] - Annemarie Galeucia
[00:19:07.080] - Becky Carmichael
OK. So the preform of the RV. I guess what I'm thinking, too, is there's the concentration of mobile homes because that was something that people were using to travel. Do you tend to see them in places that are considered ideal for vacations? So do you see a higher concentration say in the southern United States versus other parts of the U.S.?
[00:19:33.360] - Annemarie Galeucia
I think that you can definitely you can track mobile homes that they have, as they have been built and distributed over the past 25 years pretty easily pretty readily. It's a little bit more difficult to track where mobile homes prior to let's say the early '80s wound up because the census didn't bother tracking them. Mobile homes that were built and shipped. There was no tracking in terms of where they needed to be landing. Local zoning rules didn't require you to report if you bought a mobile home and put it on your property.
And so really over the over the past, over probably over the past 25-30 years it's been getting more and more strict about where you're allowed to put a mobile home, about how you report where you're putting this mobile home if you buy it, and then a lot of older mobile homes from the 1950s that are still carry overs from what the government thought was quote unquote temporary housing. None of those are really truly documented. So you can find it, you can, if you were to drive around the country that would be the most accurate way to truly document the number of mobile homes in the country.
A lot of what we have now in terms of data is rough estimations based on early estimates from sales that we can pull from archives, anecdotal information, oral histories where we were able to code, just say like "oh well this person's mentioning their trailer, they're mentioning their mobile home" but the current distribution is really heavily oriented toward places that still allow zoning for mobile home communities in the United States. And Louisiana is an interesting place to look at for this reason because you know we we identify things parish by parish here. Right? And so East Baton Rouge Parish where we're recording does not allow a lot of new mobile home developments because they argue that the quality of the mobile home will actually be detrimental to the housing equity for its new neighbors which empirically there's a lot of questions, there's a lot of a lot of data suggesting otherwise.
But the social perception is very strong and that plays a role in the development. But if you were to cross the river to West Baton Rouge Parish you would probably be able to find a lot more mobile homes in that area that were on their own subdivisions. If you go actually in the opposite direction closer to the Mississippi border you would find some communities in different parishes that are allowing new mobile home parks to be built and they're also still allowing private land ownership to further subdivide for mobile homes. So there are some parts about public zoning and land ownership that allow people the opportunity to have a lot more mobile homes in areas like Louisiana.
Another big thing and particularly in the Gulf Coast area is that people have a tendency to buy mobile homes for their second homes. Right? So a campsite, right. And they buy them for the reason you might imagine there you can pay $60,000 for a mobile home that is perfectly lovely, that's really wonderful, that you can pay off in a reasonable amount of time, and while you are going to be very upset if a storm takes it, you are not you know half a million dollars in the hole or 30 years of a mortgage in the hole on that.
So there are different reasons like that. In Florida in particular, I'm glad you brought that up. There are a lot of mobile home developments but this is an interesting moment where you see a little bit of a class shift, right, because the stereotypical mobile home is the house on wheels, it's a box on wheels and it's probably got some junk in the yard, right. But you can you can spend $5 million dollars on a mobile home. You can do that. It's actually possible. And that's going to be it. That's going to be a sweet mobile home.
Five million dollars on a sweet mobile home. And when you look at that thing you can't tell it's a mobile home because you probably spend half a million dollars on landscaping around it. So Florida in particular is a wonderful example to look at because people spend a lot of money in subdivisions that are exclusive to mobile homes but they're all high-end mobile homes. And that further complicates the class identity because the high-end mobile home has higher end fixtures.
And while it officially follows the same construction standards as the low-end mobile home, people are able to put so much money into the aesthetics of it and potentially into the tying of it to the ground because the literal fixing of the mobile home to the ground is another area that I talk about in my research. The inconsistencies in that, the inconsistencies in the reporting, and the lack of agency that lower income mobile homeowners have in terms of bringing up charges against contractors who do a bad job making sure their houses are secured. But in Florida people pay, people by these really lovely, really elaborate mobile homes and you would never even know that's what they are. But that is another major shipping area for mobile homes.
[00:24:20.050] - Becky Carmichael
So while you're talking I haven't had three thoughts. So I had already wanted to talk to you a little bit about the whole idea of the regulation and considering that mobile homes because, they're mobile, but the areas that you tend to see mobile home parks or areas or the communities they're in what you already mentioned, they're in flood plains, they're in areas that are susceptible to multiple natural disasters. Have regulations really changed for either of these classes? So for someone who gets a lower-end mobile home versus someone who gets that $5 million dollar mobile home, have the regulations changed to ensure that the quality and the safety are equivalent?
[00:25:06.150] - Annemarie Galeucia
It, like everything else, it varies depending on where you live. There are different manufacturing requirements per region of the United States. So the Housing and Urban Development Group plots out minimal construction standards for mobile homes based on where you think you're going to put it. And so the mobile home industry will build X amount of mobile homes that they hope they can sell to region Z, and X amount of mobile homes they hope they can sell to region W and those standards, depending on who you talk to and depending on who's doing the building, you can either feel pretty confident that the $68 thousand dollar mobile home and $1 million dollar mobile home are both equally following those standards and being structurally sustainable, right. But there's a lot of inconsistency in the reportings as well.
[00:26:04.560] - Becky Carmichael
And that's still the case?
[00:26:06.090] - Annemarie Galeucia
That is still the case and it's getting much much much tighter, much tighter which is a good thing we're moving in a positive trend in terms of keeping things above board in the manufacturing and this is something I've really benefited from building relationships with people who are in the manufacturing housing industry who are in who've been living in mobile homes for their whole lives. And so I have never met a person who works in the industry who has not acknowledged that this is an incredibly subjective process.
But there are a lot of studies that have come out in fields like construction management that don't have any direct stake in the mobile home industry that argue when all of the rules are followed particularly when all of the contractors rules were followed with regard to how you literally affix the mobile home to the ground, these houses are equally if not more structurally durable in the face of a Category 5 hurricane for example than a site-built home.
So the industry standards are in place. But again I would liken this to civil rights. The actual structures for making sure people are being held accountable to them are a little bit different. So you there it's a little subjective and I will say that the building on the flood plan thing, this is obviously something particularly in the Gulf Coast we think about on a really regular basis but it's a global concern, right.
[00:27:31.590] - Becky Carmichael
[00:27:32.730] - Annemarie Galeucia
A lot of the new zoning requirements that might apply to a site built home and a floodplain also might apply to a mobile home. So a lot of these older mobile home parks that are existing in flood plains. And in the 2016 flood in Baton Rouge a lot of my informants lost their homes because they were living in spaces that you know, they were mobile home communities that were built in the 1950s and they were grandfathered in through these zoning rules. But new newer homes, newer sites, they're subject they're subjected to the same requirements that you would be looking at if you were building a site-built home.
And then depending on where you choose to have your house, you might be looking at different tiers of insurance payments, you might not be able to actually access flood insurance based on where you're trying to build. And so it is an incredibly subjective thing. And because of the stigma of mobile homes and their historical relationship with government regulations in manufacturing, a lot of times they operate under a little bit of a microscope that perhaps a site-built home doesn't have to really operate under. So a contractor building a site-built home might cut some corners and they have to make a contractor or an inspector happy but there's slightly less scrutiny depending on where you live. And that's all the function of the social structures in those places.
[00:28:50.960] - Becky Carmichael
Then I was going to say I could see some of these changes in these regulations potentially changing as a result of the past several years of disasters and the effects of flooding and hurricanes, tornadoes, different events but then also the surgence and popularity of the tiny home, which is portable and mobile and what I've been, what I've watched and seen these little homes like, you know that's RV, that's mobile. And I've wondered how is that going to change the definition of home which really kind of gets me into where I really want to take the rest of the conversation.
[00:29:28.810] - Becky Carmichael
You mentioned several times the meaning of home. Personally I know I say, I want to go home to Indiana and see my family or I'm going home, meaning to Louisiana. So my definition of home, while there is a physical space for it, I also find that it's the people that I surround myself with. In the conversation, in your work, you've really taken this spatial identity and I feel like it's merged that physical as well as the identification of the self. Can you talk us through a little more about about that research and how those perceptions really shaped someone's ability to you know, just their identity as well as their ability to be successful. I don't know if successful is the right word, Annemarie.
[00:30:26.350] - Annemarie Galeucia
But to live the life they want to live.
[00:30:28.960] - Becky Carmichael
Right. So kind of I guess getting toward that American dream because the American dream I think is you have a home and you have a place of your own but that home could be a different... It is different for the individual but then it's also different in the eyes of the community.
[00:30:49.630] - Annemarie Galeucia
Absolutely. Absolutely. So I think when you talk about your perception of home, right. You're going home to Indiana, you're going home to your house tonight. Right? And how it's the people that you're surrounding yourself with, right. I think a lot of the conversations with my participants and a lot of the analysis that I do on fixed media, like news media, it really is actually talking about that too. The mobile home, the material piece oftentimes serves as a proxy or as a metaphor. Right.
So when somebody says, and this is based on my research but this is also based on you know thematic and content analysis of literally thousands of news articles, when somebody says, you know, "this mobile home is a piece of junk." The conversation will inevitably turn or the connotation already exists that the person who lives inside that mobile home is also junk and it's somebody I don't want to spend my time with. And the research that I did focused on how you identify what a good person is or how you identify what a good home is and then how you extrapolate that to identify what a good person is, right. A good home is a clean home. A good home is a structurally durable home. A good home is the kind of home that is literally connected to the community. A good home is the home that doesn't represent any financial strain on the broader community. A good home is a home that doesn't blight the community. A good home is a home that allows me the opportunity to get my kids in the school system I need to get them into.
And so it's any number of things like that. That's the material aspect of it. But a good person is also a clean person. A good person is the kind of person who's going to contribute positively to the community in which they live and to build roots there. A good person is a person who is going to want to, who's not going to bring in danger, right. They're not going to have the police showing up at their house on a regular basis, having the neighbors wonder what's happening there, right. A good person isn't going to deal drugs out of their house. A good person isn't going to have a dog fighting ring in their backyard.
A good person isn't going to let their old rusty car sit in the front yard for five years and blight the neighborhood, right. And there's there's a lot of research coming out these days that talks about, and actually I'll bring it back local to Baton Rouge. There's a lot of research coming out and a lot of debates coming out about why Baton Rouge as a city you should care about quality of place and why Baton Rouge should care about what our communities look like.
And this can come in the form of neighborhood cleanups. It can come in the form of a community mural projects or in promoting green spaces in areas. And at the end of the day all the research demonstrates that if you build the kind of space that makes people feel like they can live in it, that they can engage each other and be comfortable and form the kinds of relationships they want to form in those spaces then that is accelerating a person's opportunity to be successful or content or to realize their own vision of the American dream. And so a lot of what I do in my research is try to figure out the baseline level, like the crux, the material crux of what a person might agree is a good thing to have in a home.
And so I'm glad you brought up the tiny house stuff in particular because there are two pretty prominent splits here, right. For all of the negative conversation we have about the stereotype of a mobile or a transient person who doesn't care about their community, there's also a romanticized notion of life off the grid, of simplifying my own material culture, right. Maybe I just have too much stuff that...
[00:34:47.800] - Becky Carmichael
You're drowning, you're drowning in things and you're not enjoying life. You're not collecting memories.
[00:34:54.690] - Annemarie Galeucia
Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
[00:34:57.750] - Becky Carmichael
And tied down to that mortgage for something physical that could be the half a million dollars when you could pay 60 thousand dollars and have something that allows you freedom.
[00:35:08.640] - Annemarie Galeucia
Yes. Exactly. And so from from an empirical studies perspective the regulation and the financial components of mobile home ownership and I, and again I stress, mobile home as it is dictated by Housing and Urban Development as a manufactured home. After certain rules went into effect in 1974, the rules, regulations, and connotations connected to mobile homes as I study them are very different from the emergence of the tiny house or the emergence of, you know, a tent city somewhere of intentionally homeless populations, of intentionally nomadic populations, right? The connotations are very very different and within all of that.
And I admit most of my research is focused on the former, the manufactured house, but I necessarily have to juxtapose it and define it in contradistinction those aspects of the tiny house, of the off-the-grid world, of all of that also embraces a sense of agency and active rejection, right. So at one point one could argue that somebody in that space was successfully achieving the stereotype of the American Dream of homeownership with the picket fence which is itself a fabulous symbol that we could talk about later. But at one point they made a decision that it was not how they were going to operate.
And even though things like tiny houses are really really affordable compared to other kinds of housing the amount of financial startup you need to get moving on that or the the amount of financial mobility that you need to live a life off the grid is still a very classed identity. So a person who has the ability to work remotely from their Mac laptop, and I say this knowing I am that person, that is the person who is going to get a tiny house and move off the grid, right. It's somebody who's probably reasonably well educated who probably has the opportunity to telecommute because they can hotspot their phone if they need to wherever they are or they are otherwise independently financially secure which means that they might even have to worry about working and maybe it's because they worked really really hard and they saved up for a long time and if they did, good, you know, good for them, they were able to do it but it still puts them in a very different class zone from, you know, a family of four that's just looking for a place that's there's a shelter, a place to live, and a place to build their family, right.
And maybe they can't afford a $250,000 dollar house in a nice and up and coming neighborhood but they can afford an $80,000 mobile home in a mobile home park area and they can have that space for their family. Right? But the challenge there and you asked about lived experience is, let's say that I'm in a family of four. We have one person who's working full time, one person who's staying home because we have two really young kids and financially it's actually cheaper for me to not work at than it is to cover two kids in daycare.
So let's say we're a family of four with one income and we're trying to find that space of our own and we can't afford that $250,000 house. But we can afford an $80,000 mobile home. We buy that $80,000 mobile home. Because it's a mobile home, I'm automatically going to be paying a significantly higher interest rate on my loan and I have to pay different kinds of insurance and I'm only allowed to put it in certain places. Those places might dictate where I'm actually allowed to put my kid in school when it's time for my kids to go to school.
And even though once my kids are in school I'm probably going to become a two income household. I'm still operating under an incredibly high interest rate that's variable depending on the bank that I feel like, that's gonna give me a loan, right, and it puts me in a situation where upward mobility, which is another component of the American dream, right. That continuous, let's continue to build and advance and let's make sure that our kids have a better life than we had, right? That becomes significantly harder when you're operating in a space where either literally your spatial identity dictates what things are immediately accessible to you and I talked about school but it could also be grocery stores in your immediate area.
It could be public resources and whether or not they actually spend the time to maintain the roads in the area that your street is on, it could be signage or lighting at night. And again this is all about allocation of resources and all of those things actually dictate how you live your life. And then when you go out in broader society there is an element of stereotyping associated with mobile home residents. And this is something that came out across the board for all of my residents whether these were people who were working in a mobile home industry who had decades of material researching this and demonstrating it so they could combat it or it was people who lived in mobile homes who were sharing their own personal experiences of being discriminated against in their church groups, right.
Not being allowed to join certain clubs in their churches because they were perceived either as the people who would obviously be benefiting from the resources so the church felt bad asking them to do it or as somebody who probably was not going to really be, you know, secure enough or trustworthy or not responsible enough to actually take the lead on those kinds of projects. Or it could even be neighbors down the street saying, you know it just looks bad and makes me think that maybe there's not anybody in there that I know would be too comfortable with, you know, I lock my door because there's that trailer park down the road and I just don't know who's in there. People come and go all the time. I don't really know you know. And so it's across the board all those informants talking about the stereotyping that they have about the person and that stereotyping does have real literal implications.
[00:40:55.940] - Becky Carmichael
At one point while I was listening I wrote down privilege not just associated with race. And so I think that what you were explaining you're really talking about you're talking about privilege, privilege in terms of what we can afford in terms of that socioeconomic, and socioeconomic aspect and what we are all as a society trying to achieve. Can you can you explain then where intersectionality falls within this conversation?
[00:41:34.910] - Annemarie Galeucia
Absolutely. So in the late 1980s a sociologist named Kimberly Crenshaw developed this term to help people better understand how we are, none of us, one singular monolithic identity, right. So I am I'm a cisgender woman, right. I am a white woman. I am from the northeast. I am incredibly well educated but I also grew up on welfare right. I also might not participate in traditional sexuality, right. So within all of that there is some undeniable advantages that come with my skin tone, that come with my education level.
But it doesn't take away the fact that as a human operating in multiple spheres, multiple social strata, I might be at a disadvantage in one place or another. And it's something that we as a society I think really saw moved to the forefront particularly in the 2016 elections was that women of all colors were definitely not experiencing access to the same kinds of resources that white men were. And I will emphasize white men in that space, right, but within that when you drill down further and you actually explore income, you explore stereotyping based on language and naming and resumés, you explore stereotyping based on accents or on perceived gender.
You can actually document that while as a white woman, I'm not getting the same advantages as a white man, I am probably still getting more advantages than a woman of color or more advantages than a woman who is publicly known to be a trans woman, right? So the important thing within this concept of intersectionality is to realize not just in this sort of like culturally relative way that we've all got problems but to actually ground it empirically and say what is actually documented, what is trackable, what can we what can we explore, observe, and report on in the landscape that really shows how people are able to access different kinds of resources. And the geography plays a big role in that too because you know I mentioned them from the Northeast, while I'm from the Northeast and I was on welfare, the lowest level public school in the state of Massachusetts still performs better on tests than some of the most high level public schools in other parts of the country.
So your spatial identity does play a big role in that. One of the things that I love about studying mobile homes is that it puts white people in a space that is not ideal but it also forces people to consider the public policies associated with where we regulate everybody.
[00:44:22.360] - Becky Carmichael
[00:44:22.940] - Annemarie Galeucia
So we've got people who are able to afford a quarter million dollar house and live in either an up and coming or a comfortably historic neighborhood and those people have a broad range of demographics connected with them, right. But when you look at the history of how our government structures resource access for people, you can actually document in the landscape itself through the houses, through the street development, through the naming of the streets, through how you zone different commercial spaces, where a bank might be, where a grocery store might be, where an oil refinery might be.
You can see on the landscape traced through history where people in power decided they wanted to allow people that really didn't have that kind of power to be located in those spaces. And so again one of the things I love about the research that I do is that it forces people to have a conversation about where in the landscape you can identify people getting access to resources. And one of the reasons I love mobile homes is because you're looking at a racial or an ethnic demographic that traditionally has access to more resources and some of my informants who self-identified as white had a lot of trouble negotiating this concept of white privilege because while many of them are like I understand that as a white person in the U.S. I historically have access to resources that my black neighbor doesn't.
But I also don't understand how people might tell me I have a great life when I work 50 hours a week at Home Depot. And I still can't seem to pay off this mortgage. And I've been working my whole life really hard and people are telling me that I'm white trash.
[00:46:15.840] - Becky Carmichael
And I think, so a couple of things you've hit on. The environmental injustice. So where those spaces are that people can have a home, who want to have a shelter, they want to have family, they want to work their way up and try to become better for their children but then also right there with you really having that conversation of privilege. And in that moment identifying how it's not just tied to one race versus another or a gender versus another but privilege is a spectrum or a scale here, if you will. I don't really want to call it a scale, but it is a spectrum of different aspects.
[00:46:54.920] - Annemarie Galeucia
It's a matrix, right, it's a complex matrix.
[00:46:56.420] - Becky Carmichael
So privilege is that complex matrix where you may have more privilege at one intersection but in others you don't and really identifying where you fall within that complicates that conversation. But it also, I agree it highlights where regulations are lacking and how we're interacting and how we're defining our communities and therefore working within them.
[00:47:21.470] - Annemarie Galeucia
Can I piggyback on that really quick?
[00:47:23.000] - Becky Carmichael
[00:47:24.080] - Annemarie Galeucia
One thing I really do want to make the point to be careful to point out is that while intersectionality grounds things in context and in the history of resource access there's certain undeniable elements of society, right. And historically in the United States and I mentioned this historically because I also want to point out that history does not dictate the future.
The way that cities, the way that certain areas are laid out, the regulations that are at play here currently operate the way that they do because the people who set those rules were upper class white people and all of those rules are changeable. They're very changeable. One of my goals in highlighting these components of intersectionality and in highlighting a demographic of white people that experience life as other is to underscore that this is changeable and that when you look at those regulations you can begin to chip away at how you want to address those regulations because if you can fix something connected to zoning.
And really lobby to expand zoning resources to start building grocery stores in areas that traditionally don't have any, in areas where people of color live, in areas where white people live then you're beginning to chip away at regulations that are actually reducing people's access to resources in society. And so because we historically have operated under a system that was built by our predecessors who were rich and who were white, who were focused on capitalist constructs in society we think that sometimes it's really hard to fix this problem but it's not as hard as we think it is if we actually begin to look at those tactics and chisel away at them one piece at a time.
[00:49:16.060] - Becky Carmichael
So in the last couple minutes I did want to ask, I want to ask you a little bit about when you're not in this very heavy topic but important subject. Annemarie, what do you like to do for fun? What's your other things that you're doing?
[00:49:33.190] - Annemarie Galeucia
Oh my gosh. Oh I love this question.
[00:49:36.390] - Becky Carmichael
So you can talk about bagel cats if you want to.
[00:49:39.220] - Annemarie Galeucia
Oh bagel cats!
[00:49:41.600] - Annemarie Galeucia
Well I've got this cat. It's a picture of a cat. I don't have a real cat. I have allergies. I've a picture of a cat and the cat has a bagel on its neck. And this was an internet meme from, I don't know, 2015. And when I'm feeling really stressed out I look at this picture of bagel cat and I just say bagel cat.
[00:49:56.570] - Becky Carmichael
You're not as stressed out as that cat is.
[00:49:58.660] - Annemarie Galeucia
No, for real cause you can't get the bagel off your head. Also you can't eat the bagel. I mean you can't eat your way out of that mess.
[00:50:03.950] - Becky Carmichael
You're just stuck.
[00:50:03.950] - Annemarie Galeucia
Yeah. Yeah. But then I, you know, I also I'm a big fan of of walking. I would argue that everywhere is walking distance if you have time. Thanks Steven Wright for that great quote and I really like reading vapid crime novels where some really grotesque murder happens but also there's a cupcake recipe.
[00:50:24.200] - Becky Carmichael
Wait there's a cupcake recipe in the book.
[00:50:26.740] - Annemarie Galeucia
Yeah. Yeah. It's like, you know, solving the murder slash I'm gonna make a lemon meringue pie right now.
Yeah. If you go to page 385 you'll see this perfect lemon meringue pie recipe after you solve a gruesome murder.
So it's nice. It's, you know, full escapist... I hope that a graduate student somewhere is writing a dissertation about it right now because it's ridiculous and I'm sure both you or I would have a lot to say about it.
[00:50:53.590] - Becky Carmichael
So of all the things that we covered, is there anything else that you wanted to share with the listening audience?
[00:51:00.330] - Annemarie Galeucia
Oh thanks for that opportunity.
[00:51:03.610] - Annemarie Galeucia
I would say that you know this is a hard topic but it's not as complicated as we sometimes think it is. It can be really intimidating but when you really drill down your focus really specifically on something you can begin to pick away at those little pieces and get a really deep understanding of it and figure out how to connect that understanding to other things that might be confusing. And from there you really can develop actionable things to address the things that you care about in society that you might want to change or that you might want to actually stay the same.
[00:51:38.450] - Becky Carmichael
Thank you, Annemarie, for coming in today and and hanging out with me for a little bit.
[00:51:42.520] - Annemarie Galeucia
Thanks so much for having me. This was fabulous. This was the highlight of my day.
[00:51:45.550] - Becky Carmichael
Yeah. All right. Thanks.