The ways in which “labor-market inequalities are reproduced through space and in places”

In class today. Here’s the first paragraph from a journal paper’s conclusion I’ll be presenting on:

I have presented an analysis of the role of personal networks in the survival strategies of working poor African-American and white women with children in Worcester, Massachusetts in order to demonstrate two limitations of the spatial-entrapment thesis. First, equating mobility with power and immobility with powerlessness is too simplistic to capture the spatiality of women’s daily lives. Second, conceptualizing power as having a single source masks differences among women and impoverishes our analyses of the spatiality of women’s lives. Instead, I have demonstrated that while patriarchal structures of inequality often result in the spatial entrapment of women, the spatial boundedness of women’s lives can be both enabling and constraining, as women actively use rootedness in the construction of their survival strategies. Important aspects of rootedness are the networks that people develop in places. By examining women’s use of personal networks in the creation of their survival strategies, it becomes apparent that the relationship between power and space is more complicated than suggested by the spatial-entrapment thesis.

This comes from “Race, Space, and Power: The Survival Strategies of Working Poor Women” by Melissa R. Gilbert (gated link). As the above quote shows, she challenges the assumption that being socioeconomically isolated in marginalized urban communities for working poor women is a passive, and powerless, state under ‘spatial entrapment.’ While acknowledging that structural forces are an important influence in social and economic mobility for these residents, she argues that the interplay between this and other important social factors require a more nuanced understanding of spatiality and power. Gilbert uses qualitative data to explain how space interacts with race, class, and power to differentiated social networking and the concept of rootedness in survival techniques of working poor women.

Gilbert’s argument is well-stated. There has been, and to some extent continues to be, a tendency towards macro and meso-level theoretical concepts in sociology to omit individual and group agency. In this regard there is perhaps too much of an emphasis on power in the structural or elite sense, and less-so in the broader Weberian definition of “the probability that one actor in a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his [or her] will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests.”

One of the points that I made in my written response is that although Gilbert convincingly asserts that the power/powerlessness dichotomy is really a false one, one could be (or perhaps should be) further nuanced in this perspective. She describes spatial entrapment as a complex, interlocking engagement between rootedness (in spatially-defined social networks) and race, place, and power. Yet the strategies she lists appear less as engagements with spatial isolation, or historical power inequities, and more as mitigating responses to these largely imposed-upon conditions. Which isn’t to necessarily say that their outcomes aren’t the cumulative product of these factors, but that their non-passivity to these circumstances require even greater nuance to understand that they are inherently reactive, rather than proactive, in nature.

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4 responses to “The ways in which “labor-market inequalities are reproduced through space and in places”

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