Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science, Amherst College. Thomas R. Kearns is William H. Hastie Professor of Philosophy & Professor of Law, Jurisprudence, & Social Thought, Amherst College.
"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal
"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times
From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.
Bringing together the work of scholars in anthropology, law, literary studies, philosophy, and political theory, the essays in this volume show how state and private bureaucracies play crucial roles in fashioning forms of responsibility, which they then enjoin on populations. How do government and market constitute subjects of responsibility in a culture so enamored of individuality? In what ways can those entities--centrally, in modern culture, those engaged in insuring individuals against loss or harm--themselves be held responsible, and by whom? What kinds of subjectivities are created in this process? Can such subjects be said to be truly responsible, and in what sense?