Dr. Laura Mebert is from Flint, Michigan. She conducted her dissertation research in Flint. And now, after traveling the globe to complete her education, she’s returned to Flint as a Liberal Studies professor at Kettering University.
“I love Flint. I love being here,” Mebert said. “I’m really happy to be working at a small school with small class sizes that puts a lot of emphasis on teaching.”
Mebert graduated from Flint Central High School in 2001 before heading to Albion College to study anthropology. From there she completed her master’s degree in social anthropology at CIESAS-Sureste in Mexico and doctorate at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.
For her dissertation, Mebert conducted an ethnographic study at a superstore chain in Flint. She worked at this store as a general merchandise worker for three months to experience the lives of retail employees from a material and economic standpoint. During this time Mebert was stocking shelves, answering customer calls and working at the return desk. She then conducted detailed interviews and surveys with her co-workers.
“The big picture [is that] retail jobs in places like Flint have come to replace manufacturing jobs but they are inadequate to sustain a human life. I documented the survival strategies that people have,” Mebert said.
Survival strategies of retail workers included family support and in some cases retail workers actually moved in with other family members. Nearly half of the individuals interviewed were also on some form of government assistance or held second jobs.
“This is not a statistical study. The statistics in this case just provide a picture,” Mebert said. “What this shows is that these are impoverished [retail] jobs. The argument that if people don’t want to be poor, they should just get a job isn’t valid because that’s not enough.”
Mebert is teaching Introduction to Social Science this fall and a senior seminar the following term. At Kettering, she’s adjusting her research focus towards fracking in Genesee County and across the State of Michigan. She’s currently in the process of making contacts with local companies and their contractors to learn more about the process.