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Title page for ETD etd-03202015-142135

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Thibodeaux, Jarrett Alan
Author's Email Address jarrett.a.thibodeaux@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-03202015-142135
Title The Market Inscribed Landscape: City and Industry Causes of Food Deserts
Degree PhD
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Richard Lloyd Committee Chair
Daniel Cornfield Committee Member
Donald Compton Committee Member
Gary Jensen Committee Member
George Becker Committee Member
John Janusek Committee Member
  • Urban Sociology
  • Historical Sociology
  • Poverty and Inequality
  • Public Health
  • Urban Studies
  • Food Deserts
Date of Defense 2015-02-26
Availability unrestricted
Research has typically assumed the way to increase resources in low income and racial minority neighborhoods is to increase their demographic diversity. This has proven problematic in practice, often leading to gentrification. Instead of assuming low income and racial minority neighborhoods are doomed to resource deprivation, this dissertation explores the city and industry dynamics that cause such scarcity. I examine how cities and industries effect the distribution of supermarkets in urban neighborhoods, especially the processes creating “food deserts” (areas that lack fruits and vegetables). Two theories of how cities and industries moderate the presence of supermarkets in economically disadvantaged and African American neighborhoods are demonstrated.

First, I argue that the institutional logic of the grocery industry moderates the presence of supermarkets in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Statistics show the relationship between supermarkets and economic disadvantage changed 1970-1990. This changed relationship was caused by a changed grocery industry institutional logic: From the 1930s to the 1970s the grocery industry had an ‘economies of scale’ logic: growth through increasing sales volume. A new ‘mix-margin’ logic came about after the mid-1970s: using low margins on high demand items (‘staples’) to gain the foot traffic needed to increase sales of high margin items. Further analysis shows that during the transitionary years of the industry (1970-1983) supermarkets were less likely to locate in economically disadvantaged areas when operating under a ‘mix-margin’ philosophy.

Second, using connecting 'city contingency’ and ‘minority competition’ theories, I show how city-level structural race relations affect the placement of supermarkets away from African Americans. Results suggest that in 2010 as racial minorities become more prevalent in a city the racial majority increasingly hoards resources (supermarkets) until the racial minority gains the numbers needed to dissuade the power of the majority.

These results challenge the tendency to homogenize ‘ghettos’ as areas with fixed properties across contexts. Further, low income and racial minority neighborhoods do not need to be changed to attract resources. City race relations and the ‘mix-margin’ supermarket logic are causes of, and possible solutions to, food deserts.

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