Getting Lost in Gatlinburg: How Low-Income Residents “Make Do” in an Appalachian Tourist Town

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Department or Administrative Unit

Anthropology and Museum Studies

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Perched at the edge of the most-visited national park in the US—the Great Smoky Mountains—Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a bustling tourist resort, filled with hotels, restaurants, and amusements. Every summer hundreds of people come to Gatlinburg looking for work, a place to stay, and a “fresh start.” Gatlinburg has become a place for those who want to relocate after experiencing life-altering crises: job loss, domestic violence, addiction, bankruptcy, or the death of a loved one. Whatever circumstances propel them there, new arrivals inevitably face a critical housing shortage and a labor market dominated by low-wage, contingent jobs. They confront these challenges by developing tactics for getting by in Gatlinburg. Borrowing a phrase from a long-time Gatlinburg resident, I identify some of these tactics as “getting lost in Gatlinburg.” This paper presents two case studies of low-income white women who make ends meet by using their obscurity in the face of neoliberal social institutions, including making use of their “white privilege” and detailed local knowledge. Understanding “getting lost” as a deliberate tactic reveals subtle and complex forms of agency in their efforts to move beyond the stigma of their current circumstances toward more personally fulfilling lives for themselves and their families.


This article was originally published in City & Society. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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City & Society


© 2018 by the American Anthropological Association