Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 399–428 | Cite as

Salvaging Decency: Mobile Home Residents’ Strategies of Managing the Stigma of “Trailer” Living

  • Margarethe KusenbachEmail author


This paper is based on 45 ethnographic interviews conducted with residents of mobile home communities in West Central Florida between 2005 and 2008. It investigates their strategies of managing the stigma that is commonly associated with living in a mobile home. Informants routinely encounter negative stereotypes regarding their “trailer” home, community, and lifestyle in public discourse and personal interactions, and consequently have developed ways of salvaging their decency. My analysis of these strategies particularly emphasizes two versions of distancing, here called “bordering” and “fencing,” as examples of symbolic boundary work. Other techniques discussed include ignoring, passing, humoring, resisting, normalizing, upstaging, and blaming. Throughout the paper, I argue that mobile home residents’ ways of salvaging decency are both similar and different compared to how other disparaged groups deal with stigmatization. The conclusion discusses broader sociological implications of the research in enhancing our understanding of the experience of stigmatization, folk conceptions of decency, symbolic and social differentiation, as well as race and class dynamics.


Mobile homes Stigma Emotion management Identity Goffman 



I am very grateful for the enthusiastic and skilled help of my ten undergraduate research assistants: Stephanie Antonio, Shon Atkins, Corina Farrar, Alissa Klein, Tegan Lesperance, Alexandra Okolie, Wanda Sloan, Claire Street, Lisa Vasquez, and Isabel Ziemba. A portion of the research conducted for this paper was funded by the University of South Florida via a New Researcher Grant and a Faculty Development Grant both received in 2005. Many thanks also to Jack Katz and Donileen Loseke, as well as the QS editor and four anonymous reviewers, for their detailed feedback on earlier drafts of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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