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Faculty Fall 2018: Lise Nelson

Affluence and the Production of Illegality

Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Geography

Affluence and the Production of Illegality

From Sun Valley, Idaho to Highlands, North Carolina, high-amenity rural places in the U.S. have been transformed over the last three decades by an influx of wealthy, white urbanites buying or building a home in “their” rural paradise—whether that be defined by powder skiing, fly fishing, golfing, or hiking. My research connects rural landscapes of luxury and recreation with new geographies of low-wage Latinx immigrant settlement and the broader, contested politics of undocumented immigration to the United States. While scholars have been attentive to some of the changes wrought by the arrival of wealthy, white amenity migrants—from rising property values to the cultural and political displacement of working-class locals—most have overlooked the low-wage and often undocumented immigrants who provide labor essential for building and maintaining rural landscapes of affluence. My project draws on comparative, qualitative research in Colorado and Georgia to examine how race, class, and “illegality” shape labor markets, geographies of social reproduction, and narratives of place and belonging in high-amenity rural areas in the United States. I invoke the concept of “illegality” to consider the racially-inflected presumption that someone exists outside the law and is inherently threatening, allowing me to explore how narratives of illegality and racial difference underpin the functioning of economic and social relations in rural landscapes ostensibly framed as sites of relaxation, recreation, and luxury.