What makes the politics of resentment flourish? An ethnographic case study of Bemidji, MN


Abstract

What makes the politics of resentment popular in rural America? This masters research paper documents an ethnographic case study designed to provide deeper insight into public opinion in Bemidji, Minnesota, a rural town in the north of the state with about 15,434 people.


I immersed myself in a political conversation with seven citizens in Bemidji to better understand how citizens in the area think about politics. By using a method of listening, I learned that rural Minnesotans, like many Americans, are divided and feel frustrated in new ways. This masters research paper looks to contribute to the emerging literature that argues for a wider adaptation of ethnographic methods within political science – particularly as we grapple with anti-intellectualism and democratic erosions in the post-truth era.


I hope to fill gaps in our knowledge of the politics of resentment by further operationalizing the multifaceted nature of the concept. This masters research paper argues that the politics of resentment is made up of four distinct resentments that can be seen in Bemidji and across rural America.


The four types of resentment are geographic, economic, racial, and cultural. These resentments are layered. They melt into each other and strongly nourish an anti-establishment politics that is animated by a sense of anger, alienation, displacement, and helplessness.


Those who practice the politics of resentment feel like strangers in their own land – as new geographic, economic, demographic, and cultural shifts have become too much to bear. Our seven participants give us a glimpse of the resentment and political polarization that is happening in Bemidji and across the country while also offering us some optimism and hope about the future.


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