CHI Salon: "Worthless: An Ethnography of Devaluation and Domecide in a Midwestern Trailer Park"

February 10, 2021 - 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm (already occurred)
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Headshot of Allison Formanack

Manufactured homes (MHs), better known as “mobile homes” or “trailers,” house an estimated 22 million Americans; however, fewer than 25 percent of all manufactured homes are titled as real estate. Classifying their homes as personal property is the only option for the estimated 7 million residents living in approximately 50,000 mobile home communities (MHCs) across the United States. Although over 90 percent of MHs never move once sited, most municipalities restrict MHs to MHCs, where resident landownership is prohibited.

Drawing on 28 months of ethnographic research in urban MHCs in Lincoln, Neb., in this talk, 2019-20 CHI Fellow Allison Formanack describes how mobile-homeowners create symbolic-- if not economic --value in their homes. As these case studies reveal, the affective labor of home-making produces a hybrid identity-- that is, a deeply meaningful relationship between “home” and “owner” that is as often destructive as it is beneficial.

Allison Formanack is an incoming assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Southern Mississippi. A cultural anthropologist, Dr. Formanack considers the process by which pollution, ruin and “trashiness” is transferred from home to resident in the context of the most maligned housing type in the United States: the “mobile” or “trailer” home. Drawn from 28 months of ethnographic fieldwork in urban mobile home communities in Nebraska, her work finds that immaterial systems of law and finance conditions the materiality of categorically ambiguous “mobile” housing. This creates a state of “im/permanence,” or imposed temporariness, which threatens the rights and well-being of an estimated 22 million mobile-homeowners. She is currently working on a book project based on this work, Mobile Home on the Range: Manufacturing Ruin and Respect in an American Zone of Abandonment. Dr. Formanack received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Colorado Boulder, where her research received support from from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, among other organizations.

Additional Info

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Contact Info

Heather Grimes
(413) 542-5870
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