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Worlds Apart

University of New Hampshire
26-May-99

New Book, Cycle of Rural Poverty and Solutions

Library: LIF-SOC
Keywords: POVERTY RURAL AMERICA BOOK APPALACHIA DELTA DUNCAN NH
Description: The University of New Hampshire's Cynthia M. Duncan, professor of sociology, researches rural poverty in America. Her latest book is the result of a five-year study of how the poverty cycle can be broken.

New Book Examines Cycle of Rural Poverty and Offers Solutions

As we enter the twenty-first century, nearly nine million Americans live in poverty in rural areas, one third in communities with persistently high poverty rates. Cynthia M. Duncan, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, has dedicated her academic career to researching rural poverty in America first-hand. Her latest book, Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America (1999, Yale University Press), is the result of an intensive five-year study of the lives of residents in isolated corners of Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta and Northern New England.

Duncan has revealed why some rural families are able to break the cycle of poverty--and why some remain economically depressed generation after generation. After conducting 350 in-depth interviews and examining ten decades of U.S. Census data, Duncan says she is convinced that the cycle of the rural poor can be shattered--if the isolation of classes, the "norms of separation," in a community are broken. Connections and interaction between rural residents of different classes encourage the growth of a middle class that supports public investment and helps make antipoverty and development programs work, she says.

Impoverished communities in the Delta and Appalachia are clearly divided into haves and have nots, she notes. The have-nots live worlds apart from the haves, socially isolated and outside the mainstream. Their isolation and poverty are reinforced by the corrupt, undemocratic politics that prevails in this kind of two-class system. The unchallenged, all-encompassing power of the haves keeps the poor personally vulnerable, while the patronage that flourishes in job-scarce communities undermines efforts to bring about political change.

The poor are stigmatized, blamed for their poverty, and often deliberately blocked from the opportunities of the world of the haves, says Duncan. They do not develop the habits, skills, and ambitions they need to make it in the mainstream. The schools, churches, and youth groups that might help them bridge those worlds are segregated by class or race, and the schools they attend are often chaotic and ineffective. In Appalachia and the Delta, she notes, inequality erodes a community's social fabric, destroying trust and undermining institutions crucial for helping poor families achieve the American Dream.

At the other end of the spectrum, in rural northern New England, a public-minded middle class maintains a rich civic culture with inclusive institutions that help those who are ready to leave poverty behind, and people of all social classes talk about the trust and lack of differences that make the community a good place to live.

Cynthia M. Duncan can be contacted in her office at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., 603-862-1993, or at home, 603-436-6306. She can also be reached at mil.duncan@unh.edu.

Worlds Apart

From http://www.yale.edu/yup/books/076282.htm

1999 Anthropology 256 pp. 9 illus., 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Cloth ISBN 0-300-07628-2 $30.00

Paper ISBN 0-300-08456-0 $15.95

This compelling book takes us to three remote rural areas in the United States to hear the colorful stories of their residents--the poor and struggling, the rich and powerful, and those in between--as they talk about their families and work, the hard times they've known, and their hopes and dreams. Cynthia M. Duncan examines the nature of poverty in Blackwell in Appalachia and in the Mississippi Delta town of Dahlia.

She finds in these towns a persistent inequality that erodes the fabric of the community, feeds corrupt politics, and undermines institutions crucial for helping poor families achieve the American Dream. In contrast, New England's Gray Mountain enjoys a rich civic culture that enables the poor to escape poverty. Focusing on the implications of the differences among these communities, the author provides powerful new insights into the dynamics of poverty, politics, and community change.

The author conducted 350 in-depth interviews over five years and examined ten decades of U.S. Census data to unravel the ways poverty is perpetuated. Duncan unmasks the lack of basic democracy in poor places, but she also illustrates how a large middle class that supports public investment can make antipoverty and development programs work.

This is an important book for anyone interested in poverty. Duncan goes beyond statistical analysis and uses personal interviews to give us insight into how communities deal with poverty and its associated problems. --Gary D. Sandefur, coeditor, Confronting Poverty: Prescriptions for Change. Cynthia M. Duncan is associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. Among her many publications is the widely read collection Rural Poverty in America.

A documentary exposition of great moral energy, informed by impressive intellectual skills: an extraordinary mix of social history, economic and political analysis, and direct observation by a boldly original researcher. --Robert Coles, from the foreword

In this compelling book, Cynthia Duncan examines the nature of poverty by listening to the stories of real people in remote rural areas of the United States. A persistent inequality characterizes two communities she describes, but in another a rich civic culture assists the poor to escape poverty. Focusing on the implications of these differences, Duncan offers powerful insights into the dynamics of poverty, politics, and change.

"This is an important book for anyone interested in poverty. Duncan goes beyond statistical analysis and uses personal interviews to give us insight into how communities deal with poverty and its associated problems."--Gary D. Sandefur, coeditor, Confronting Poverty: Prescriptions for Change

"A documentary exposition of great moral energy, informed by impressive intellectual skills: an extraordinary mix of social history, economic and political analysis, and direct observation by a boldly original researcher." --Robert Coles, from the foreword " Duncan, through in-depth investigation and interviews, concludes that only a strong civic culture, a sense among citizens of community and the need to serve that community, can truly address poverty. . . . Moving and troubling. Duncan has created a remarkable study of the persistent patterns of poverty and power." --Kirkus

Reviews

"The description of rural poverty in Worlds Apart are interesting and read almost like a novel. Sociologist Duncan compiles accounts of residents who describe their lives in three rural areas: a coal-mining town in Appalachia, a cotton-plantation town in the Mississippi Delta, and a mill town in northern Maine. . . . All levels." --Choice

"The debate goes on, and Cynthia Duncan's Worlds Apart is must reading for anyone involved. Those who advocate the need for greater sense of social responsibility in our attitude toward the poor will find much support in this study." --Thomas Bokenkotter, America

"This is a good book. It is imminently readable, filled with rich and revelatory interviews with both 'haves' and 'have nots' in 'Blackwell,' a coal county in Appalachia; 'Dahlia,' an agricultural plantation county of the Mississippi Delta; and 'Gray Mountain,' a mill town in northern New England. . . . . [Duncan] pursue[s] the ways in which poverty is perpetuated and what can be done about it." --Jim Sessions, Appalachian Journal

[An] absorbing, provocative book. . . . In her lavish use of direct quotes and firsthand observations, skillfully interwoven with commentary and historical and economic background, Duncan achieves an authenticity and believability rare in academic work, which make one take her seriously. . . . For an examination of persistent rural poverty in America, Worlds Apart is excellent. --Linda Simon, World & I

Analyzing data from over 350 in-depth interviews conducted during 1990-95, Cynthia Duncan provides a vivid and highly nuanced description of life in rural America's poor communities. . . . I am enthusiastic about this book, and I recommend it highly. --David Brown, American Journal of Sociology

Duncan combines theoretical sophistication with the gravity of real-life stories to tell of the absence of democratic processes in these areas, a main reason why the cycle of poverty continues. . . . Duncan weaves a narrative that should cause us profound national embarrassment over how, in a land of plenty, so many can have so little. --Doubletake

It would be impossible to capture the richness of the case studies in a brief summation. . . . Worlds Apart is a book of award-winning caliber. One hopes it will not be 10 years before Duncan brings us another masterpiece. Still, if it takes that long to produce another of such stunning quality, it will be worth the wait. --Gene F. Summers, Social Service Review A well-written book that should be included in any college course on poverty and inequality in modern America. --William Rainford, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare Cynthia M. Duncan is associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. Among her many publications is the widely read collection Rural Poverty in America.

This interesting and well-written study provides valuable insights into poverty, politics and social change. It will be of interest to a range of readers, including academics and researchers working in the fields of poverty and inequality and those who are inquisitive about social research techniques. --Kaye Peggs, Social History

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