Naming displacement

Ryanne Pilgeram’s book ‘Pushed Out’ explores the effects of rural gentrification through the history of Dover

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

It is impossible to tell the story of Ryanne Pilgeram’s life without recognizing how the town of Dover shaped her early years.

Now Pilgeram is doing her part to tell the story of Dover in her book Pushed Out: Contested development and rural gentrification in the U.S. West. The book, published by the University of Washington Press, combines narrative storytelling, historical research and sociological theory to paint a complete and compelling picture of Dover.

Ryanne Pilgeram in the mountains of North Idaho. Courtesy photo.

“I really wanted a book that was readable,” said Pilgeram, a sociology professor at the University of Idaho. “I wanted the kind of book that I could take back to Dover or to Sandpoint and it didn’t feel like an assignment to get through it.”

Pilgeram will do just that on Saturday, May 22, as she signs books and answers questions at Vanderford’s Books from noon-2 p.m.

Pushed Out uses Dover as a case study for the broader implications of rural gentrification — that is, “commodification of space and displacement of residents” in rural areas, according to Rina Ghose, one of the scholars cited in the book.

North Idahoans are intimately familiar with outsiders making their way to the panhandle in hopes of carving out their own slice of rural paradise. In recent years, the “us vs. them” mentality has ramped up, as locals struggle to afford housing and experience the other effects of a rapidly increasing population — particularly an influx of people who bring with them large amounts of out-of-state money.

Pushed Out explores these themes within larger economic and cultural contexts, and the name “Dover” could very nearly be replaced by the names of several towns throughout the West that have seen the same cycle of boom, bust and resort development.

“I got really lucky with the timing of this book,” Pilgeram said. “I think it’s a conversation that people are hungry to have. … One of the things sociology does is it gives a name to problems with no name, and once we have a name for things, it’s easier to have discussions about them.”

All of that said, Pilgeram is not pointing fingers. Rather, she used in-depth interviews and archival research to find patterns and draw conclusions about what conditions led Dover down the path it finds itself on today. 

The plight of local people is not the population increase, she argues, but rather a system that does not make room for people of every walk of life.

“Populations move and shift around and that’s typical, and to be expected,” she said. “One of things we can ask ourselves is, ‘Who gets to drive those conversations about what our community looks like?’”

Currently, it’s typically developers who have the most sway in the big decisions facing the community — particularly in amenity-rich, rural communities like Dover. Pilgeram said that rather than identify one bad actor, it is important to recognize that it’s not the developers alone who are responsible for radical shifts — after all, developers aim to make money, and that is an accepted societal norm. It is the system that prioritizes profit above all else that creates fertile ground for rural gentrification.

Pilgeram said it is important to acknowledge the flaws of the overall system, and then try to imagine how different decision makers might shape a community. For instance, what would Sandpoint look like if restaurant workers had equal influence in making the calls when it came to development? How would their lived experience and goals inform those decisions?

One scenario is not necessarily better or worse than the other, Pilgeram said, but it is worth considering how a community’s character and local goals could be realized depending upon who is in the driver’s seat.

“We need to be able to conceptualize communities that serve us, and I mean us collectively, as people,” Pilgeram said. “I don’t think we’ve been given very many opportunities to do that, and the kind of inequalities we see around Sandpoint are reflected in that. 

“I don’t have real clear answers,” Pilgeram continued. “I think it’s conceptual — we have to be able to imagine a world, to build that world.”

Attend the Pushed Out book signing event at Vanderford’s Books & Office Products (201 Cedar St.) on Saturday, May 22 from noon-2 p.m. Pilgeram will be signing copies of her book — available for purchase at Vanderford’s — and answering questions about the project.

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