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.