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.
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.
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.
[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.
(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.
(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.
University of New Hampshire sociologist Duncan (Rural Poverty in America, not reviewed) looks at the social relations and political and economic institutions that perpetuate poverty in rural America. "Blackwell" (place names have been changed) in Appalachia and "Dahlia" on the Mississippi Delta, are two of the poorest areas in the US. Duncan studied the lives of the residents of these places, and what she found was communities where the "haves" and "have nots" inhabit different worlds within historically structured, rigid class and, in Dahlia, race divisions. In both places local elitescoal company operators in Blackwell, plantation owners in Dahliacontrol not only the economic life of the community but the political life as well. Their power is near absolute, and they use public institutions, including schools, to further their own interests and punish those who cross them. The poor remain "powerless, dependent, and do not participate" in civic life. A kind of stasis sets in where the poor see no option but to give way to those who have always had power, and the powerful resist change as it may threaten their status. In contrast, "Gray Mountain," in northern New England, is a town with a strong civic culture based on a blue-collar middle class that has created public institutionsfrom little league to effective schoolsthat serve all in the community. 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. Yet class and race relations in places like Blackwell and Dahlia preclude such a sense of community. Her answer, goingagainst so much conventional wisdom, is federal government intervention, especially to create equitable school systems where they do not exist. Only such intervention, Duncan asserts, will give the poor the knowledge of alternatives, the hope they now lack. Moving and troubling. Duncan has created a remarkable study of the persistent patterns of poverty and power. (The book's foreword is by Robert Coles.)