Poor Whites in Contemporary Southern Writing
A wide-ranging exploration of how contemporary narratives contribute to debates on class and economics
Representations of southern poor whites have long shifted between romanticization and demonization. At worst, poor southern whites are aligned with racism, bigotry, and right-wing extremism, and, at best, regarded as the passive victims of wider, socioeconomic policies. In Poverty Politics: Poor Whites in Contemporary Southern Writing, author Sarah Robertson pushes beyond these stereotypes and explores the impact of neoliberalism and welfare reform on depictions of poverty.
Robertson examines representations of southern poor whites across various types of literature, including travel writing, photo-narratives, life-writing, and eco-literature, and reveals a common interest in communitarianism that crosses the boundaries of the US South and regionalism, moving past ideas about the culture of poverty to examine the economics of poverty. Included are critical examinations of the writings of southern writers such as Dorothy Allison, Rick Bragg, Barbara Kingsolver, Tim McLaurin, Toni Morrison, and Ann Pancake.
Poverty Politics includes critical engagement with identity politics as well as reflections on issues including Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 financial crisis, and mountaintop removal. Robertson interrogates the presumed opposition between the Global North and the Global South and engages with microregions through case studies on Appalachian photo-narratives and eco-literature. Importantly, she focuses not merely on representations of southern poor whites, but also on writing that calls for alternative ways of reconceptualizing not just the poor, but societal measures of time, value, and worth.
Sarah Robertson’s engaged and engaging Poverty Politics restores class and economics to their rightful place at the forefront of any understanding of southern literature and visual culture. In a series of smartly argued chapters ranging across travel writing, photography, life-writing, literature, and eco-writing, Robertson offers a trenchant analysis of how the workings of global capitalism and economic policies have crucially shaped narratives about—and created by—poor white southerners. An invaluable book for anyone interested in the literatures, history, sociology, and cultures of the modern US South.- Brian Ward, professor in American studies at Northumbria University