A sociological study focusing on the experiences of 11 characters toiling in the underbelly of a vibrant American city.
Inspired by the seminal work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (The Weight of the World), Auyero (Latin American Sociology/Univ. of Texas; Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina, 2012, etc.) invited his students to try a similar study of their local Austin “underclass” to show how external forces in society—low wages, lack of health care, racism, gender inequality, being undocumented and trying to attend college, etc.—have adversely affected the lives of real people. Each of the students chose a subject dear to his or her own area of research, spent much time with and interviewed the subject extensively, and fashioned a readable narrative of the subject’s life that underscores the chronic challenges that erode the well-beings of so many Americans—especially “those living at the bottom.” After Maggie Tate’s excellent historical overview of Austin, which puts the city in context as an attractive, creative boom economy with enormous disparity in wealth, each contributor presents the plight of his or her subject. They include Mexican-born Santos, who looked back on a hard life “working for others” and some middle-class success and was threatened by an injury in a car accident that left his uninsured family in near financial ruin; Clarissa, a middle-age, white restaurant worker who was rendered homeless by an accident that exposed her uninsured vulnerability to hospitals and lawyers; Inés, whose delinquent daughter fell into the grips of the state’s Disciplinary Alternative Education Program; Raven, who moved from waitressing to stripping to escorting for the money, slipping into drug addiction and abusive relationships; and Nepalese refugee Kumar, a cab driver who lied about his identity to keep customers from abusing him. Engaging and accessible, the essays dovetail with today’s debates on social inequality and immigration.
A scholarly study conducted with dignity and thoroughness.