Explaining the New Class Cleavages: Geography, Post-Industrial Transformations and Everyday Culture

30 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2017 Last revised: 10 Nov 2017

See all articles by Kathleen R. McNamara

Kathleen R. McNamara

Georgetown University - International Relations

Date Written: August 31, 2017


The election of Donald Trump has been a jarring shock to the American political system. In this paper, I argue that to fully explain the political cleavages driving his victory, and populist trends more broadly, political scientists need to better understand the interaction between material circumstances and cultural identity, rather than seeing them as separate. I begin with the observation that post-industrial transformations have produced a starkly divided economic geography in the US, with cities growing ever more vibrant and rural areas dramatically declining across a variety of important indicators. Although this transformation is widely acknowledged, left unexplored is the impact that this spatial differentiation between regions has on the cultural construction of political cleavages. I propose that the material reality of this pattern of economic activity has generated cultural class bubbles that underlie today’s political polarization. Drawing on the practice turn in political science, I offer an argument about culture as everyday lived experience. This argument helps better account for how economic change translates through culture and identity to become manifest in new political cleavages.

Keywords: populism, geography, culture, post-industrial economy

JEL Classification: N92

Suggested Citation

McNamara, Kathleen R., Explaining the New Class Cleavages: Geography, Post-Industrial Transformations and Everyday Culture (August 31, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3059222 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3059222

Kathleen R. McNamara (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - International Relations ( email )

Department of Government
Washington, DC 20057
United States
(202) 687-5159 (Phone)
(202) 687-5116 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://https://kathleenrmcnamara.wordpress.com/

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