Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Dana-Ain Davis

Committee Members

Michelle Fine

Bianca Williams

Savannah Shange

Subject Categories

American Studies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Southwest, Sunbelt, Neoliberalism, Citizenship, Racism, Colonialism


For the past forty years, public education in the United States has been the target of both neoliberal and conservative education reforms that have imposed austerity and privatization, set limits on racial, gendered, and sexual citizenship, increased school responsibility for social reproduction, and winnowed visions of public education as both a universal social entitlement and site of participatory democracy. These reforms emerged from, and remain powerfully anchored in, the United States Sunbelt, a crescent of metropolitan suburbs spanning southern California to Florida. This region propelled the conservative revolution in American politics but is also the site of progressive organizing that, in 2018, brought hundreds of thousands of people to state capitols demanding a reversal of punitive educational austerity through the Red For Ed Movement. In Arizona, Red for Ed and the subsequent Invest In Ed electoral campaign won massive gains in teacher pay and education funding that destabilized, but did not upend, the hegemony of conservative and neoliberal education governance. In the aftermath of red state revolts, parent and volunteer advocates continue to work at the local and state level to envision and enact progressive modes of public schooling. This dissertation asks: what are the effects of progressive education advocates on K-12 education publics and politics in Phoenix, and how do their practices of engaged citizenship help conceptualize unfolding configurations of social belonging and statecraft in the United States?

Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork with education advocates – white suburban parents in the East Valley, a grassroots group of Black mothers in historically Black South Phoenix, and a multi-racial cohort of volunteers working within a nonprofit campaign – I theorize advocacy as a style of politics that creates and intervenes in publics and also illuminates broader formations of racial and colonial citizenship that have shaped the Southwest and United States more broadly. Drawing on feminist activist ethnographic methods, I entered collaborative research relations with advocates in order to examine their practices of engaged citizenship while making space for radical critiques of the limitations of progressive politics and political horizons. Building on their insights and archival research, I develop the concept of sunbelt schooling to name the process of making race, class, gender, and space through regional histories of schooling and the sedimentation of institutional logics repurposed by present day hegemonies. I show how advocacy as a style of politics emerges from the unique social positions and perspectives of Black mothers, white parents, and nonprofit volunteers as they cultivate their own practices of advocacy and engage in collaborations. Far from futile, I argue that advocates build the definition and practice of progressive politics from the ground up and continue to the destabilize the hegemony of conservative and neoliberal governance of social reproduction in the United States, but with serious limitations in addressing racial and colonial formations of citizenship, and the recent crisis of social reproduction precipitated by COVID-19.