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Industrial imaginaries: Local voices on Carrier Corp., Tesla Motors, and unevenly developing capitalism

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This historically-conscious dissertation examines two main case studies representing different positions in the capitalist process of uneven development. Inspired by Gramscian theory, it captures the common-sense beliefs expressed through various communication channels when cities face either job losses or a new corporate opportunity. Among the key questions are: Who do those affected by layoffs think is to blame? And what criticisms, if any, surface in local media when public money is used to attract jobs? The first case study centers on an imperiled Carrier plant in Indianapolis, IN, which during the 2016 campaign season became the site of a national conversation on offshoring and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Management announced that 2,100 jobs would ship to Mexico, while a related factory in Huntington, IN, also faced closure. The second case study examines Tesla and Panasonic’s Gigafactory 1 outside of Reno and Sparks, NV, since its siting in 2014. A $1.25 billion tax-abatement deal with Nevada made their project possible. The primary methods I use are media discourse analyses and interviews with workers and city councilmembers in four cities. Among the findings are several explanations circulated for Carrier’s decision that often differed given their source; these included shareholder interest, NAFTA, undue taxation, greed, and ineffectual workers and unions. I analyze these through lenses of common-sense ideology and journalistic practices, and I argue that the criticism mostly addresses symptoms of capitalism only. For solutions, Indianan officials mostly pushed for attracting new businesses and upskilling the workforce, which are neoliberal presumptions. Those in marginal positions typically pushed for organizing, voting for Donald Trump, or boycotting Carrier, which I unpack ideologically and materially. In the Tesla case, I argue that a media spectacle surrounding Elon Musk and his brand helped sell the Gigafactory as a boon to all Nevadans despite a small group of elites benefiting. Criticism of the deal in local media was largely limited to bourgeois procedure and legislative tinkering. Capitalist image, spectacle, and the lack of material follow-through link the case studies. Additionally, I show how officials view their cities and how they hope to move them forward.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Gruneau, Richard
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