Date of Award

Summer 7-1-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Purser, Gretchen


Boundary-work, Culture clash, Inequality, Police power, Policing, Rural

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


This dissertation focuses on the ways in which residents of Old Forge, New York make use of policing as a resource to structure and reproduce social and symbolic boundaries. Drawing on in-depth interviews with a combination of 40 permanent residents and second-home owners in the area, I explore how policing in this rural amenity-based tourist town is rooted in the economic and social histories of the area and how it structures access to social and moral capital for residents. I focus on how social divisions between permanent residents and second-home owners are observed and experienced by both groups and how they bridge those divisions in the formation of various boundaries between the town and what lies beyond.

Through an in-depth case study of how policing is bound up with the production of meaning, moral standards, and a local social hierarchy in Old Forge, I address several connected research questions. (1) How do permanent residents and second-home owners in Old Forge make sense of the connections and divisions between them? (2) How do members of both groups understand policing, as a generative force, to be part of the production and maintenance of those divisions, and what are the impacts of these understandings? Exploring Old Forge and its growing levels of social divisions and inequality, my research has implications for our understanding of the formation of social and symbolic boundaries drawn by residents of amenity-based rural towns. My research also has implications for understanding how policing operates as a generative force that communicates values and meanings of identity and belonging and provides structure to resulting relationships of inequality.

Drawing primarily on qualitative interviews with residents of the town, along with supplemental data, I examine how they define and maintain various boundaries to answer three empirical questions: (1) How do practices and experiences of rural policing reflect the material conditions of the town and to what extent is policing involved in the maintenance of local social inequality? (2) How do residents of both groups make sense of the police scanner and the information it broadcasts? (3) And finally, how do residents of both groups respond to and make sense of the Summer 2020 protests and how do their understandings impact existing divisions and boundaries? Together, these empirical questions create a case study of policing, boundaries, and rurality that responds to key theoretical questions regarding how policing operates as a generative force and process that communicates values and meaning that is structured by, and in turn structures, locationally specific economic and social histories.

As towns like Old Forge continue to experience an ever-widening divide between permanent residents and in-migrants, amplified by looming housing crises and limited employment opportunities, this project advances a theoretical framework to understand the often-inconspicuous role of policing in shaping localized social inequality and disparities based on who is deemed valuable, worthy, and deserving. Bound up with this alternative framework for seeing and navigating social worlds, this dissertation aims to ignite a desire to build a foundation for social connection and justice through disentangling policing from daily social life not just for those living in Old Forge, but for all.


Open Access

Included in

Sociology Commons