Morality, Identity, and Mental Health in Rural Ghettos

  • Linda M. Burton
  • Raymond Garrett-Peters
  • John Major Eason
Part of the Social Disparities in Health and Health Care book series (SDHHC, volume 1)


When we think about the impact of place on poor mental health outcomes our thoughts are often anchored in images of how urban ghettos’ influence the prevalence of problem behaviors and violence among individuals and families who reside within them. Within the last decade, however, social scientists have increasingly turned their attention to the emergence of rural ghettos and the concomitant rise of mental health problems in these environments. Rural ghettos are residentially segregated places that have high concentrations of disadvantage and contextual stigma. They exist within small, geographically isolated towns and their adjacent pastoral communities. Ghettos take different forms including dilapidated tracts of housing, subsidized housing projects, and run-down trailer parks on the outskirts of town. They are also parts of larger ecologies of local residents who reside in protected and affluent spaces on their geographic peripheries.

In this chapter, we explore the impact of place on mental health by examining the role of the rural ghetto in shaping the well-being of its residents and those who live in close proximity. We discuss the role of two dimensions of place that are endemic to understanding the influences of rural ghettos on mental health – location as morality and as identity. We argue that emerging ghettoized sections of rural communities have presented challenges to residents’ perceptions, beliefs, and practices regarding their “rural moral codes” and their “rural place identities.” These challenges are products of changing local landscapes (e.g., the disruption of routine social relations through diminished work opportunities) and stigmatizations as “undesirable living spaces” that compromise the mental health of those who reside within a rural ghetto as well as those who live outside of a ghettos’ borders.


Rural Community Rural Resident Rural Landscape Economic Restructuring Police Chief 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Support for this research was provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (PO1-HD-39667), the National Science Foundation (SES-07-03968), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


  1. Aiken, Charles S. 1987. “Race as a Factor in Municipal Underbounding.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 77:564–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aiken, Charles S. 1990. “A New Type of Black Ghetto in the Plantation South.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 80:223–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aiken, Charles. 1998. The Cotton Plantation South Since the Civil War (Creating the North American Landscape). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, Elijah. 1990. Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, Elijah. 1999. Code of the Streets: Decenty, Violence and the Moral Life of the Inner City. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  6. Antonovsky, Aaron. 1979. Health, Stress, and Coping. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  7. Antonovsky, Aaron. 1987. Unraveling the Mystery of Health: How People Manage Stress and Stay Well. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  8. Bageant, Joe. 2007. Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War. New York: Crown Publishers.Google Scholar
  9. Bourgois, Philippe. 1996. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Brown, David L., Louis Swanson and Alan Barton (eds). 2003. Challenges in Rural American in the 21st Century. University Park: Penn State Press.Google Scholar
  11. Burton, Linda M. and Sherri Lawson Clark. 2005. “Homeplace and Housing in the Lives of Low-Income Urban African American Families.” pp. 166–188 in Emerging Issues in African American Family Life, edited by Vonnie C. McLoyd, Kenneth Dodge, and Nancy Hill. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bushy, Angeline 1997. “Mental Health and Substance Abuse: Challenges in Providing Services to Rural Clients.” Bringing Excellence to Substance Abuse Services in Rural and Frontier America. Technical Assistance Publication (TAP) Series 20, DHHS Publication no (SMA) 97-3134.
  13. Cobb, James. 1992. The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Conger, Rand and Glen H. Elder Jr. 1994. Families in Troubled Times: Adapting to Change in Rural America. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  15. Cromartie, John B. and Linda L. Swanson. 1996. “Census Tracts More Precisely Define Rural Populations and Areas.” Rural Development Perspectives 11(3):31–39.Google Scholar
  16. Cromartie, John B. and Calvin L. Beale. 1996. “Increasing Black-White Separation in the Plantation South, 1970–90.” Economic Research Services, USDA downloaded from downloaded on July 11, 2008 from:
  17. Cuba, Lee J. 1984. “Reorientations of Self: Residential Identification in Anchorage, Alaska.” pp. 219–237 in Studies in Symbolic Interaction (Vol. 5), edited by N. Denzin. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  18. Davidson, Osha G. 1990. Broken Heartland: The Rise of America’s Rural Ghetto. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  19. Davis, Dona L. 1993. “When Men Become ‘Women’: Gender Antagonism and the Changing Geography of Work in Newfoundland.” Sex Roles 29:457–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Davis, Dona L. 2000. “Gendered Cultures of Conflict and Discontent: Living ‘The Crisis’ in a Newfoundland Community.” Women Studies International Forum 23:343–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dill, Bonnie Thornton. 1999. Poverty in the Rural U.S.: Implications for Children, Families, and Communities. Literature review prepared for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.Google Scholar
  22. Dill, Bonnie Thornton and Bruce B. Williams. 1992. “Race, Gender, and Poverty in the Rural South.” pp. 97–110 in Rural Poverty in America, edited by C. M. Duncan. New York: Auburn House.Google Scholar
  23. Duncan, Cynthia M. 1999. Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Duncan, C. M. and N. Lamborghini. 1994. “Poverty and Social Context in Remote Rural Communities.” Rural Sociology 59:437–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Duneier, Mitchell. 1999. Sidewalk. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  26. Eason, John. 2010. It’s Like the City, Only Quieter: Making the Rural Ghetto. Unpublished Paper. Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University.Google Scholar
  27. Erikson, Kai T. 1976. Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  28. Falk, William 2004. Rooted in Place: Family and Belonging in a Southern Black Community. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Fitchen, Janet M. 1991. Endangered Spaces, Enduring Places: Change, Identity, and Survival in Rural America. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  30. Fitchen, Janet M. 1994. “Residential Mobility Among the Rural Poor.” Rural Sociology 59:416–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Flora, Cornelia Butler, Jan L. Flora with Susan Fey. 2004. Rural Communities: Legacy and Change. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  32. Foulkes, Matt and K. Bruce Newbold. 2008. “Poverty Catchments: Migration, Residential Mobility, and Population Turnover in Impoverished Rural Illinois Communities.” Rural Sociology 73(3):440–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gans, Herbert J. 1972. “The Positive Functions of Poverty.” American Journal of Sociology 78:275–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Garrett-Peters, Raymond. 2009. “‘If I Don’t Have to Work Anymore, Who Am I?’: Job-Loss and Collaborative Self-Concept Repair.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 38:547–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gessert, Charles E. 2003. “Rurality and Suicide.” American Journal of Public Health 93(5):698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Goffman, Erving 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  37. Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  38. Graumann, Carl F. 1974. “Psychology and the World of Things.” Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 4:389–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Greenhouse, Carol J. 1986. Praying for Justice: Faith, Order, and Community in an American Town. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Greider, Thomas, Richard S. Krannich, and E. Helen Berry. 1991. “Local Identity, Solidarity and Trust in Changing Rural Communities.” Sociological Focus 24:263–282.Google Scholar
  41. Hamilton, Lawrence C., Leslie R. Hamilton, Cynthia M. Duncan, and Chris R. Colocousis. 2008. Place Matters: Challenges and Opportunities in Four Rural Americas. Carsey Institute Reports on Rural America, Vol. 1(4). Durham, NH.Google Scholar
  42. Harvey, David. 1993. Potter Addition: Poverty and Kinship in a Heartland Community. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  43. Hirsch, Arnold. 1998. Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940–1960. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  44. Hirschl, Thomas A. and Mark R. Rank. 1991. “The Effect of Population Density on Welfare Participation.” Social Forces 70:225–235.Google Scholar
  45. Hoey, Brian A. 2005. “From Pi to Pie: Moral Narratives of Noneconomic Migration and Starting Over in the Postindustrial Midwest.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 34:586–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hoey, Brian A. 2006. “Grey Suit or Brown Carhartt: Narrative Transition, Relocation: An Reorientation in the Lives of Corporate Refugees.” Journal of Anthropological Research 62:347–372.Google Scholar
  47. Hormuth, Stefan E. 1990. The Ecology of the Self: Relocation and Self-Concept Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Jackall, Robert. 1988. Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Johnson, Kenneth. 2003. “Unpredictable Directions of Rural Population Growth and Migration.” In Challenges in Rural American in the 21st Century, edited by Brown, David L., Louis Swanson and Alan Barton. University Park, PA: Penn State Press.Google Scholar
  50. Knapp, Tim. 1995. “Rust in the Wheatbelt: The Social Impacts of Industrial Decline in a Rural Kansas Community.” Sociological Inquiry 65(1):47–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lamont, Michele and Marcel Fournier (eds). 1992. Cultivating Differences: Symbolic Boundaries and the Making of Inequality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  52. Lawson Clark, Sherri. 2008. Migration for Housing: Urban Families in Rural Living. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania Report.Google Scholar
  53. Lewis, David J. and Andrew Weigert. 1985. “Trust as Social Reality.” Social Forces 63:967–985.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lichter, Daniel T. and David L. Brown (in press). “Rural America in an Urbanizing Society: Changing Spatial and Social Boundaries.” Annual Review of Sociology.Google Scholar
  55. Lichter, Daniel T. and Kenneth M. Johnson. 2007. “The Changing Spatial Concentration of America’s Rural Poor Population.” Rural Sociology 72(3):29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lichter, Daniel T., Dominico Parisi, Steven M. Grice, and Michael Taquino. 2007a. “Municipal Underbounding: Annexation and Racial Exclusion in Small Southern Towns.” Rural Sociology 72(1):47–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lichter, Daniel T., Dominico Parisi, Steven M. Grice, and Michacl Taquino. 2007b. “National Estimates of Racial Segregation in Rural and Small-Town America.” Demography 44(3):563–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lichter, Daniel T., Dominico Parisi, Michael Taquino, and Bo Beaulieu. 2008. “Race and the Micro-Scale Spatial Concentration of Poverty.” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 1:51–67.Google Scholar
  59. MacTavish, Katherine. 2007. “The Wrong Side of the Tracks: Social Inequality and Mobile Home Park Residence.” Community Development 38:74–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. MacTavish, Katherine and Sonya Salamon. 2001. “Mobile Home Park on the Prairie: A New Rural Community Form.” Rural Sociology 66:487–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. MacTavish, Katherine, Michelle Eley, and Sonya Salamon. 2006. “Housing Vulnerability Among Rural Trailer-Park Households.” Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy 13:95–117.Google Scholar
  62. Massey, Douglas S. and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  63. McGranahan, David A. 1994. “Rural America in the Global Economy: Socioeconomic Trends.” Journal of Research in Rural Education 10:139–148.Google Scholar
  64. Moore, Robert M. 2001. The Hidden America: Social Problems in Rural America for the Twenty-First Century. London: Associated University Presses, Inc.Google Scholar
  65. Naples, Nancy A. 1994. “Contradictions in Agrarian Ideology: Restructuring Gender, Race Ethnicity, and Class.” Rural Sociology 59:110–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Nelson, Margaret K. and Joan Smith. 1999. Working Hard and Making Do: Surviving in Small Town America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  67. Nelson, Margaret K. 2005. The Social Economy of Single Motherhood. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  68. Pattillo, Mary. 2003. “Extending the Boundaries and Definition of the Ghetto.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 26:1046–1057.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Reding, Nick. 2009. Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  70. Salamon, Sonya. 2003. Newcomers to Old Towns: Suburbanization of the Heartland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  71. Salamon, Sonya and Jane B. Tornatore. 1994. “Territory Contested Through Property in a ­Mid-Western Post-Agricultural Community.” Rural Sociology 59:636–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sampson, Robert J. and Jeffrey Morenoff. 2006. “Durable Inequality: Spatial Dynamics, Social Processes, and the Persistence of Poverty in Chicago Neighborhoods.” pp. 176–203 in Poverty Traps, edited by Samuel Bowles, Steve Durlauf, and Karla Hoff. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Scaramella, Laura V. and Angela W. Keyes. 2001. “The Social Contextual Approach and Rural Adolescent Substance Use: Implications for Prevention in Rural Settings.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 4(3):231–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Schafft, Kai. 2006. “Poverty, Residential Mobility, and Student Transiency Within a Rural New York School District.” Rural Sociology 71(2):212–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Schwalbe, Michael. 2005. “Identity Stakes, Manhood Acts, and the Dynamics of Accountability.” Studies in Symbolic Interaction 28:65–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Schwalbe, Michael L. and Douglas Mason-Schrock. 1996. “Identity Work as Group Process.” pp. 113–147 in Advances in Group Processes, edited by B. Markovsky, B. J. Lovaglia, and R. Simon. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  77. Schwalbe, Michael, Sandra Godwin, Daphne Holden, Douglas Schrock, Shealy Thompson, and Michele Wolkomir. 2000. “Generic Social Processes in the Reproduction of Inequality: An Interactionist Analysis.” Social Forces 79:419–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Sherman, Jennifer. 2006. “Coping with Rural Poverty: Economic Survival and Moral Capital in Rural America.” Social Forces 85:891–913.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sherman, Jennifer. 2009. Those Who Work, Those Who Don’t: Poverty, Morality, and Family in Rural America. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  80. Singer, Milton. 1980. “Signs of the Self: An Exploration in Semiotic Anthropology.” American Anthropologist 82:485–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Singh, Gopal K. and Mohammad Siahpush 2002. “Increasing Rural-Urban Gradients of U.S. Suicide Mortality, 1970–1997.” American Journal of Public Health 92(7):1161–1167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Small, Mario. 2007. “Is There Such a Thing as ‘the Ghetto’?” City 11(3):413–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Smith, Kristin. 2008. Working Hard for the Money: Trends in Womens’ Employment: 1970–2007. A Carsey Institute Report on Rural America.Google Scholar
  84. Snyder, Anastasia R. and Diane K. McLaughlin. 2004. “Female-Headed Families and Poverty in Rural America.” Rural Sociology 69(1):127–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Stack, Carol. 1996. A Call to Home. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  86. Tickamyer, Ann R. 1992. “Rural Labor Markets and the Working Poor.” pp. 41–62 in Rural Poverty in America, edited by C. M. Duncan. Westport, CT: Auburn House.Google Scholar
  87. Tickamyer, Ann R. and Cynthia M. Duncan. 1990. “Poverty and Opportunity Structure in Rural America.” Annual Review of Sociology 16:67–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Tickamyer, Ann R. and Debra A. Henderson. 2003. “Rural Women: New Roles for the New Century?” pp. 109–117 in Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty-First Century, edited by D. Brown and L. E. Swanson. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  89. Twiss, Pamela C. and Thomas R. Mueller. 2004. Exploring Public Housing Use in Rural Pennsylvania. Center for Rural Pennsylvania Report.Google Scholar
  90. Van Gundy, Karen. 2006. Substance Abuse in Rural and Small Town America. Carsey Institute Report. A Carsey Institute Report on Rural America.Google Scholar
  91. Venkatesh, Sudhir. 2009. Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Wacquant, Loïc. 2001. “Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh.” Punishment and Society 3(1):95–134. Also in Garland, David. 2001. Mass Imprisonment: Social Causes and Consequences. London: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Wacquant, Loic. 2002. “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Rethinking the ‘Race Question’ in the US.” The New Left Review 13(Feb):41–60.Google Scholar
  94. Wahl, Ana-Maria Gonzalez and Steven Gunkel. 2007. “From Old South to New South? Black-White Residential Segregation in Micropolitan Areas.” Sociological Spectrum 27(5):507–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Weber, Burce, Leif Jensen, Mathleen Miller, Jane Mosley, and Monica Fisher 2005. “A Critical Review of Rural Poverty Literature: Is There Truly a Rural Effect?” International Regional Science Review 28:441–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wilson, William J. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  97. Wirth, Louis. 1956[1928]. The Ghetto. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda M. Burton
    • 1
  • Raymond Garrett-Peters
  • John Major Eason
  1. 1.Department of SociologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations