More than thirty million Americans live in small, out-of-the-way places. Many of them could have chosen to join the vast majority of Americans who live in cities and suburbs. They could live closer to better paying jobs, more convenient shopping, a wider range of educational opportunities, and more robust health care. But they have opted to live differently.
In Small-Town America, we meet factory workers, shop owners, retirees, teachers, clergy, and mayors--residents who show neighborliness in small ways, but who also worry about everything from school closings and their children's futures to the ups and downs of the local economy. Drawing on more than seven hundred in-depth interviews in hundreds of towns across America and three decades of census data, Robert Wuthnow shows the fragility of community in small towns. He covers a host of topics, including the symbols and rituals of small-town life, the roles of formal and informal leaders, the social role of religious congregations, the perception of moral and economic decline, and the myriad ways residents in small towns make sense of their own lives. Wuthnow also tackles difficult issues such as class and race, abortion, homosexuality, and substance abuse.
Small-Town America paints a rich panorama of the lives and livelihoods of people who reside in small communities, finding that, for many people, living in a small town is an important part of self-identity.
Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University. His books include Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland and Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s (both Princeton).
"Small-Town America is full of surprising findings. . . . [A]cutely aware of the fragility of small towns, Wuthnow believes they have a viable future."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"This comprehensive investigation of social life in small, rural U.S. communities by distinguished scholar Wuthnow is a remarkable contribution to the rural sociological literature. The author combines data from the U.S. census, national surveys, and his own quantitative and qualitative research to illuminate how rural residents view the changes in small town life over the past few decades. . . . An important, thought-provoking picture of small town life."--Choice
"[A] rich tapestry depicting the pleasures and difficulties of life in small-town America, the histories and the promises of these places, and the hopes and fears of the people who choose to live there."--Elizabeth Dilley, Christian Century
"This engaging book offers a reassessment of small-town life, avoiding nostalgic simplifications and placing the small town into proper perspective relative to the rest of American society. Wuthnow navigates through misperceptions held by many people--including some social scientists--and offers a more balanced view of small-town life and culture. I know of no other book like it."--Wade Clark Roof, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Small-Town America fills a significant gap in the sociological literature. Grounded in a nationally representative survey, ethnographic site visits, and scores of in-depth interviews, Wuthnow's nuanced and sensitive book draws on the voices of small-town Americans and challenges enduring stereotypes. Wuthnow takes the conversation deeper, and he does not avoid the hot-button issues."--John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University
Table of Contents:
List of Figures vii
List of Profiles ix
1- Introduction 1
2- You Have to Deal with Everybody: The Inhabitants of Small Towns 17
3- Going to Be Buried Right Here: How Residents View Their Towns 51
4- Community Spirit: Small-Town Identities That Bind 101
5- The Frog Pond: Making Sense of Work and Money 139
6- Leadership: Earning Respect, Improving the Community 177
7- Habits of Faith: The Social Role of Small-Town Congregations 217
8- Contentious Issues: The Moral Sentiments of Community Life 263
9- Washington Is Broken: Politics and the New Populism 291
10- Keep Your Doors Open: Shaping the Future 319
11- Concluding Reflections: Community in Small Towns 341
Selected Bibliography 449
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Robert Wuthnow: