Friday, March 16, 2018

Sociologist who spent eight years asking rural people why they’re mad at government publishes a book about it

Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow, who grew up in rural America, spent eight years interviewing rural people to find out why they're so angry with government. In the resulting book, The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America, "He argues that rural Americans are less concerned about economic issues and more concerned about Washington threatening the social fabric of small towns and causing a 'moral decline' in the country as a whole," Sean Illing reports for Vox. "The problem, though, is that it’s never quite clear what that means, or how Washington is responsible for it."

Wuthnow did the research between 2006 and 2014, speaking to people in every state, but only those living in towns with a population under 25,000 and far from suburbs or cities. In an interview with Illing, he noted that though rural America's racial makeup is mostly white, the number of Hispanics and other immigrants is growing. Rural whites, he found, believe that the government has a great deal of power over their lives, and feel threatened when they perceive that government wants to help urban areas or minority populations more.

Rural Americans "value their local community. They understand its problems, but they like knowing their neighbors and they like the slow pace of life and they like living in a community that feels small," Wuthnow told Illing. In interviews, "I kept hearing from people is a general fear that traditional moral rules were being wiped out by a government and a culture that doesn’t understand the people who still believe in these things.

The book, and the project it was based on, come across somewhat as Wuthnow processing his feelings about growing up in -- and away from -- rural America. And impatient as he is about socially conservative attitudes, he recognizes also the very real problems facing rural areas, such as the opioid epidemic. And he notes also that America's divisions (and commonalities) aren't always predictable: "It’s worth remembering that not all divisions run along the rural-urban divide. The conservative-liberal divide or the Republican-Democrat is just as pronounced in many cases. So we’ve got a lot of work to do in this country, and it goes beyond this one fault line.

No comments: