Thesis Title: Rural Hoosiers: Theorizing the Rural Identity through an Investigation of Political Behavior and Rural Culture in Indiana
The idea for my senior thesis came to me during the fall of my junior year as I was driving my little silver Prius back from a greenhouse in rural Indiana. For some on-the-ground research into the contemporary political environment of the Midwest – the subject of one of my final papers – I went to chat with a couple of old friends in my hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana. One of these friends was a farmer and the owner of a local greenhouse.
For three hours, he described one of most controversial issues in the area: countywide zoning. A luxury that seems commonplace in Cambridge, countywide zoning is nothing more than the ability for the local government to determine how land is used and who can buy it: a measure to prevent the local hog farm from building a pigsty next to your backyard. This local farmer, though, saw county zoning as an infringement on his right to control the land he owned. He didn’t mind land-use regulation per say; he just didn’t want the City of Crawfordsville, the “unelected appointed urbanites” in his words, to tell him how to use his land.
This was the beginning of a summer-long effort to visit folks all around Indiana and learn more about this peculiar phenomenon, a phenomenon that I came to call the rural identity. My thesis ultimately explains how living in a rural area not only influences political opinions but constitutes political identities. I think of rurality not as a geography or a demographic, but as a culture. Rural folk have ideologies, customs, behaviors, and symbols that are their own: unique to the rural culture. I spoke with about 100 people in Indiana from four different counties, and for these conversations, I would spend the day with these folks – hang out on their farms, have a beer at the local bar, canvass their district with them. The result was a theory of the rural identity, and the beginning of a whole avenue of research for me.
This was what was most rewarding about my thesis writing experience: the possibilities for further engagement with my research. Quite selfishly, I used the social studies thesis to better understand myself and my own background: what it means to be rural, how rurality influences identity, and how we can revitalize rural areas. And I want to devote many more years to this project studying rural voting behavior whether it’s in politics, academia, or just in my personal life.
These were the aspirations that got me through the dark days of January and February, writing chapter after chapter of subpar material that needed many revisions. Thus, my piece of advice to future writers: choose a topic that you love so much that you’re willing to write 300% more than what you’ll include in the thesis. It needn’t be a topic that’s hyper-relevant or marketable, just something that you care about. Even better if you learn more about your own identity as you go.