Critical Studies of Southern Place

A Reader

by William M. Reynolds (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook XVI, 408 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 434


Critical Studies of Southern Place: A Reader critically investigates and informs the construction of Southernness, Southern identity, and the South past and present. It promotes and expands the notion of a Southern epistemology. Authors from across the South write about such diverse topics as Southern working-class culture; LGBT issues in the South; Southern music; Southern reality television; race and ethnicity in the South; religion in the South; sports in the South; and Southernness. How do these multiple interpretations of popular culture within critical conceptualizations of place enhance our understandings of education? Critical Studies of Southern Place investigates the connections between the critical examination of place-specific culture and its multiple connections with education and pedagogy. This important book fills a significant gap in the scholarly work on the ramifications of place. Readers will be able to center the importance of place in their own scholarship and cultural work as well as be able to think deeply about how Southern place affects us all.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface: Old Times There Are Not Forgotten
  • Notes
  • References
  • Acknowledgments
  • Section 1: Class and Politics
  • Chapter One: The Pedagogic Function of Work(ing-Class) Stories:An Exploration of Culture in the Deep South
  • Woodly
  • The Beauticians and the Mechanics
  • The Millers
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Two: Class Warfare: You’d Better Redneckognize
  • Middle-Class Anxieties
  • White Trash Renaissance
  • Redneck Women
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Three: Southern Satellite
  • Chapter Four: Policing in the Heat of Hypermasculinity:The Blue Polyester Curriculum and the Critical Education of a Southern Cop
  • My Souths and Treein’ the Man: Context of Study
  • Hollerin’ Truth to Power: Theory and Methodology
  • Cockfights, Guns, ’Shine, and ’Backer Juice: Examining Southern Cultures
  • It’s All About Fighting and Fucking
  • What the Thresher Turned Up
  • References
  • Chapter Five: Drowning Democracy: The Media, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Hurricane Katrina
  • Introduction
  • The Second Gulf War
  • The Politics of Disposability and Drowning Democracy
  • Regulation replaces representation and social accountability
  • Notes
  • Section 2: Music
  • Chapter Six: Redneck Piece of White Trash: Southern Rebels and Music: Epistemologies ofClass, Masculinity, and Race Identity
  • White Trash Music
  • Nostalgia
  • Southern Masculinity and Class in White Trash Music: “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin”
  • Rebel Son—Redneck Piece of White Trash
  • Drive-By Truckers
  • Her and Kings County and Bubba Sparxxx
  • Race in White Trash Music
  • 21st-Century White Trash Dixieland Commodified
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: Diddley Bows, Cross Harps, Banjars, and Backbeats:The Rhythm and Sound of Personal Agency from Southern African America
  • Discovering Voice Through Bend and Slide
  • “It’s Got a Back Beat You Can’t Lose It”
  • Agency through the Word
  • Coda
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: Banjos and Shit: Reclaiming Indigenous Knowledge and the “Hermeneutics of Minstrelsy”
  • “Gentlemens Be Seated”
  • Carolina Chocolate Drops and Performance Pedagogy
  • Keep a Song in Your Soul
  • Banjos and Shit Minstrel Project
  • Researcher as Performer
  • Research Intent and Methods
  • Hermeneutics and “Meaning-Making”
  • Ethnography and Evoking Indigeneity in the Modern Day
  • The Hermeneutics of Minstrelsy and KASIYS
  • Decoding Hegemony, Emancipatory Art
  • Acknowledgement of Self in Relation to World
  • Minstrelsy as Indigenous Position/Knowledge
  • Process of Interpretation, Making Meaning
  • Identity Formation, Challenging/Reimagining Self
  • Connections to Social Justice, Power, and Democracy
  • Banjos and Shit—An Ethnographic Look
  • The Performers—Narrative Themes
  • Remaking meanings
  • Connecting authentic instruments, music, and movement to modern sensibility
  • Looking back to bring forward
  • Cultural exchange and identity
  • The Performed—Minstrel Music and Dance
  • The Performance Space—Creative and Empowering Space
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Section 3: Popular Culture
  • Chapter Nine: “Why Do They All Have ‘Powers’?”: De/Constructing Southern “Otherness” in True Blood
  • Constructing “America” by Regionalizing the “Degenerate” South
  • Bon Temps, Louisiana: Constructing Southern Otherness in True Blood
  • Vampire Bill: The “Old South”
  • The “Two-Natured”: Social Class and Degrees of “Domestication”
  • Witches and Mediums: Gender, Race, and Mysticism
  • The Humans: Ignorance and Intolerance
  • The Fae and Maenad
  • De/Constructing Southern “Otherness”: Implications for Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Ten: The Averted Gaze: Representations of Race and the American South in Contemporary Young Adult Fiction
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: Honey Boo Boo, Moonshiners, and Duck Dynasty: The Intersection of Popular Culture and a Southern Place
  • Life in Dixie and the Construction of the Southern Identity
  • “Hickality” Television Programming: Bein’ Cool and Bein’ Smart in the South Is Different
  • Hicks, White Trash, Yokels, and Hillbillies: The Significance of Place in Popular Culture
  • Southern Mythology and Critical Analysis
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: Dirt Roads andNarrow Minds: Visual Media’s Queering of the American South
  • References
  • Chapter Thirteen: SubalternDesires: Queer (in) Southern Story Lines: Looking at Movies and the Queering of/in the South.
  • Setting the Scene—Signified for a Response
  • A Promiscuous Knowing
  • References
  • Chapter Fourteen: Duck Dynasty Is a TV Show: The Outdoors and Southern Identity
  • Forever One with the Wilderness?
  • Apprenticeship in the Woods
  • Dispossessed of Canaan?
  • All There Is of This Settled Country
  • References
  • Section 4: Race/Ethnicity
  • Chapter Fifteen: In the Shadows of the New South: Latinos and Modern Southern Apartheid
  • Historical Antecedents of Southern Desegregation
  • Place
  • Change and Economic Development: A Continuing Problem
  • Demographic Data and the Latino Population
  • Two Cases: Undocumented Children and the Cuban Experience
  • Undocumented Students
  • Cuban Experiences
  • Transition to Action: Latinos and Southern Identity
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Sixteen: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The Unspoken Policy of the AfricanAmerican Church in the South
  • References
  • Chapter Seventeen: Paula Deen and Those Days of White Magnolias with Bitter Tea
  • Would You Like Some Bacon with That Bigotry?
  • Everything Old Is New Again
  • Southland Vignette: Early 1990s
  • Trading in One Orange for Another—It Is Not Real Anyway
  • Football: What Unites the South
  • Hey, Hey Paula
  • I Wish I Was in the Land of Cotton…Nostalgia in the Southern Imagination
  • Come Back to the Five and Dime, Paula Deen
  • Paul Deen Erases and Effaces
  • Passin’ the Fascist Notch Through the Sunbelt
  • The South Is Everywhere
  • References
  • Chapter Eighteen: Reimagining Race: Teaching and Learning in an Urban Southern Elementary School
  • Urban Schooling/Education, Black Children, and Curriculum Theory
  • Urban Schooling/Education
  • Curriculum Theory and Education
  • Southern Space
  • Why Critical Race Feminism?
  • Prelude to the Counterstory
  • The Methodology
  • The Counter-Story
  • Rationale: Why Connect Curriculum, Critical Race Feminism, and Autoethnography?
  • Conclusion: Next Steps
  • References
  • Chapter Nineteen: Educated and Educating in the Post–Civil Rights-Era South: A Critical Memoir
  • The Segregated South Rises Again
  • “Kids in Prison Program” Justified?
  • Passive Radicals: The Manufactured Myth
  • A Call for Noncooperation: A Rosa Parks Moment for Southern Education
  • References
  • Section 5: Sacred
  • Chapter Twenty: Reasons for Moving: Reading Lessons from Southern-Sacred Textuality
  • Start Close In
  • Reading Lessons: Present Tense, or, the Profane Text
  • Reading Lessons: Past Tense, or, Sacred Habits
  • Reading Lessons: Future Tense, or, the Commonplace
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-One: Purgatory’sPlace in the South: A Black Woman’s Journey from Church to the Promised Land
  • References
  • Section 6: Southernness
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Treasures and Ghosts: In the South, Nothing Is Just Black and White
  • Joe Kincheloe’s Songs of the South
  • Myths
  • Telling Stories
  • Tradition
  • The Context from which We Speak
  • Children of the South
  • Southern Ghosts
  • Exiled Intellects
  • Southern Treasures
  • In the South, It Is Never Simple
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Yes Sir, Yes Ma’am, and the Ritual of Spanking: The Curriculum of Respect in the South
  • Hofstede’s Framework
  • Characteristics of Societies that Hit Children
  • What Type of Family Hits?
  • Unbraiding the Data
  • Social Distance and Control
  • Ritual
  • Spanking as an Act of Love
  • Supported by Moral Code
  • Strict Code of External Social Principledness
  • Spanking Gets Results
  • Fear of Reprisal
  • Changing the Discourse
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Visual Landscapes, Literacies, and Place: The South (Re)seen
  • The Migration South
  • A Visual Southern Politics
  • The Revisionist Imagery of Southern Culture: Roles Reversed
  • Visual Inquiry, Place, and Identity
  • The OASIS Research Method
  • Observation
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Implementation
  • Sharing
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: Of Time and River: How Place RacializedMy Course in Life
  • A History of My Place: Of River, Violence, and Race
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: Grotesque Stories, Desolate Voices: Encountering Histories and Geographies of Violence in Southern Gothic’s Haunted Mansions
  • Entering the Haunted Mansion of Southern Gothic
  • Surveying the Swamps of the Gothic South
  • Spinsters, Divas, and Vamps
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: Pageant Culture, Media, Social Class, and Power
  • Opportunities for Future Success
  • Fortune and Prizes
  • A Ticket to Stardom
  • Class Mobility
  • Living Up to Society’s Focus on Winners
  • Social and Economic Standing
  • Proof of Beauty
  • Embodying Values or Ideals
  • Adultification of Children
  • Developing Self-Esteem
  • Instilling Competitiveness
  • Rite of Passage
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Section 7: Sports
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: “We All Came Together on the Football Field”: Unpacking the Blissful Clarity of a Popular Southern Sports Story
  • Football, Community, and Race Relations: Achieving Integration the Southern Way
  • No Black Coaches, No Black Cheerleaders, No Black Bodies Allowed: The Failure of the Football Myth
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine: High-Priced Sports: Parents, Sports, and the South
  • References
  • Section 8: Southern Institutions
  • Chapter Thirty: Finding My Place in/Against a Peculiar Institution
  • (Good) Girl Gone Wild: A Predictable Past
  • Mammy Gone Mad: Surviving the “Nightmare That Is the Present”
  • All Body, No Mind: Policing of the Black Woman’s Body
  • Ghosts of Mammy: Servicing the Field (of Teacher Education)
  • Runaway Academic Going Nowhere: Letting Go of Hope in the Future
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Thirty-One: “The Enemy in the Midst”: Gay-Identified Men in Christian College Spaces
  • “It’s a Lot Like Feeling at Home”: Meaning of the Christian College Space
  • “Gay Rights, the Gay Agenda, and All that Stuff”: Shifting Historical and Political Meanings
  • Being-in-Place: Navigating and Negotiating Identities in an Evangelical Place
  • “Very Unexpected Support”: Spaces of Support and Refuge
  • Stages of Acknowledging and Speaking
  • Performing and Hiding
  • Negotiating Gay and Religious Identities
  • Christian Colleges as Places of Education
  • References
  • Chapter Thirty-Two: 32. Gay and Queer Men of Color at Southern Universities
  • Experiences and Perspectives
  • Race, Sexuality, Gender, and the South
  • The Participants
  • The Complexities of Work, Life, and Identity
  • Uncertainty About the South
  • Challenges
  • Support
  • Recommendations and Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Thirty-Three: The World Through My Eyes: A Rural Southern Boy Comes of Age
  • Knowing Thy Self
  • The Unique Southern Self Matters in Leadership
  • A Perspective on Returning Home
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Contributors



Old Times There are Not Forgotten

William M. Reynolds

Southerners of both races share a rootedness that even in moments of anger and pain we have been unable to repudiate or ignore, for the South—all of what it is—is in us all. As with Quentin Compson speaking in his pent-up frenzy to his Canadian roommate at Harvard, we love it and we hate it and we cannot turn our backs on it. (Morris, 1981, p. 75)

I don’t normally write a preface, chapters, articles, or even emails on planes. But as I sat down in my seat on a flight from Baltimore and was waiting for the plane to take off, I found a new issue of Delta Sky Magazine (November, 2013) in the seat pocket. Trying to relieve the boredom of waiting, I thumbed through the magazine and was shocked to find the article “Why Southern Food Is so Hot.” My claim has been that America has gone South both politically and culturally (Reynolds, 2013), and there, in the seat pocket of the plane, was another confirmation not only of this claim, but also of the trendy commodification of the South. Southernness is in, and you can buy it everywhere.

Thanks to our collective yearning for food with a distinct sense of place, down-home Southern staples such as barbecue, bourbon, and biscuits have never been hotter. Their reach is extending well beyond their humble beginnings in diners and fry shacks to upscale restaurants devoted to baskets of fried chicken and the simple pleasures of, say, homemade pie. (Disbrowe, 2013, p. 79)

The article proceeds to describe eight foods that “embody the soul of the South” (Disbrowe, 2013, p. 79). The locations mentioned are just as important as the fried chicken, gumbo, collard greens, biscuits, pecan pie, butter beans, barbecue and grits (“yum, yum,” as the cast of Hee Haw used to declare). Cities listed are: Charleston, South Carolina; Arlington, Virginia; Dallas, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; Walland, Tennessee; Oxford, Mississippi; Abbeville, Louisiana, New Orleans, Louisiana; ← xi | xii → Durham, North Carolina; Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Charlottesville, Virginia; Ayden, North Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; and Ashville, North Carolina. The article declares that Oxford, Mississippi, may be the culinary “Paris of the South” (Disbrowe, 2013, p. 134).

A couple of things stood out to me about this article and how it relates to the essays and epistemologies in this book. First, of course, is the obvious commodification of the South that the article reinforces. Just by eating some gentrified versions of Southern cooking you can understand the South. Maybe Southern food is simply a trendy cuisine and we should purchase that food to be “in.” Like some of the essays in this volume, the article also deals with the “sophisticated” urban South—those Southern cities that have become part of the homogenous urban landscape. Apparently, having “Southern” affectations—whether they are truly exclusively Southern or not—has become trendy. For example, you see camouflage (another Southern thing gone nationwide) for sale at Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, and other exclusive stores, as well as at Wal-Mart and Tractor Supply. The essays in this book explore this fascination with the South and all things Southern. These chapters also emphasize that there are, perhaps, many Souths. And the South is a commodity.

The other phenomenon that is evidence of our having “gone South” is the proliferation of reality shows that purport to give us all a glimpse into all things Southern. These shows are broadcast on many different cable networks.1 Commodification is implicit in the production of merchandise tied to the shows: Games, keychains, hats, t-shirts, and so on can be purchased in stores and on the websites of favorite shows. These reality shows and Southern cooking shows also have spawned controversies that fill current tabloids.

The South has been a focus of tabloid news and the Internet recently because of the racist sentiments expressed by the famous Southern belle cook Paula Deen (see Anijar-Appleton chapter). Deen discussed her ideal Southern wedding vision:

“Well what I would really like is a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around,” the lawsuit claims Deen said. “Now that would be a true southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.” (Walker, 2013, p. 1)

Then there were the controversial religious/homophobic statements made by Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the reality show Duck Dynasty (see Hilty and Owen chapters), in a GQ interview:

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical. (Magary, 2014, p. 1)

Rather than the hateful, racist, and homophobic statements by Southern celebrities, the most significant aspect of a Southern epistemology may be Southerners and folks like me (transplanted Yankees) who have lived in the South for years and have that love/hate relationship with the South that Willie Morris discusses. This relationship swirls around in the chapters of this book. Anyone who is from the South or lives in the South understands this quandary. The love we have for the land, azaleas and dogwoods in spring, the warm misty mornings, storytelling, music, collard greens, sweet tea, fried chicken, Sundays in Savannah, ← xii | xiii → air conditioning, and hard-working people—what Kincheloe (1991) called the “treasures” (p. 145). And the hatred we have for the racism and intolerance that still circulates in those misty mornings in towns where the Confederate battle flag is still flown and that same symbol is stuck to the bumpers of pickup trucks. For many of us those are the ghosts that Kincheloe discussed in the 1990s (Kincheloe & Pinar, 1991). The ghosts in the Southern mist will remain here for us. As the authors continue to trouble those ghosts, the ghosts will continue to haunt our efforts at understanding. That understanding helps because those ghosts arrive just in time to interrupt progress with social justice.

I never intended to edit two books on the South. The current focus on all things Southern in the media and in our daily lives demonstrated that the issues of the South needed additional discussions. I sincerely hope that the dialogue concerning issues of the South will continue long after this book is published. The authors of these chapters have deeply considered the issues. Many have delved into the issues from their lived experiences in the South. Other authors are intellectual carpetbaggers who are entranced by the South and feel a part of it. This volume speaks to a new scholarship, one that allows the South to rise again, as a scholarly and literary challenge to all who enter the mist.


  1  A partial list of reality shows that deal with the South:
Program (Starting Date), Network
Trick My Trucker (2006), CMT
Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team (2006), CMT
Swamp People (2010), History Channel
Lizard Lick Towing and Recovery (2011), TRU TV
Moonshiners (2011), Discovery
Sweet Home Alabama (2011), CMT
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (2012), TLC
Redneck Island (2012), CMT
Duck Dynasty (2012), A&E
My Big Redneck Vacation (2012), CMT
Redneck Rehab (2012), CMT
Gone Country (2012), CMT
Backyard Oil (2013), Discovery
Welcome to Myrtle Beach Manor (2013), TLC
Party Down South/Dirty South (2013), CMT
Bayou Billionaires (2013), CMT
Appalachian Outlaws (2014), History ← xiii | xiv →


Disbrowe, P. (2013, November). Why Southern food is so hot. Delta Sky Magazine, 78–85 & 134. Retrieved from http://deltaskymag.delta.com/Sky-Extras/Food-and-Dining/Why-Southern-Food-is-so-Hot.aspx

Kincheloe, J. L., & Pinar, W. F. (Eds.). (1991). Curriculum as social psychoanalysis: The significance of place. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Magary, D. (2014, January). What the duck? GQ. Retrieved from http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson

Morris, W. (1981). Terrains of the heart and other essays on home. Oxford, MS: Yoknapatawpha Press.

Reynolds, W. M. (Ed.). (2013). A curriculum of place: Understandings emerging through the Southern mist. New York: Peter Lang.

Walker, H. (2013, June 19). Paula Deen on her dream “Southern plantation wedding.” Talking Points Memo. Retrieved from http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/paula-deen-on-her-dream-southern-plantation-wedding ← xiv | xv →


This book is the work of many devoted scholars trying to understand the South. I am grateful for their participation and work on this project. It is also the result of many conference presentations and discussions. I want to thank Shirley Steinberg for our conversations about the South and life in general, particularly when I was teaching with her at the University of Calgary in the summer of 2013, as well as her help in getting this work published. Wendy Chambers’ photography continues to capture wonderful images of the South, and I am so glad she is willing to share those images. Chris Myers continues to be supportive of my efforts and tells great stories. I appreciate that. Additional thanks go to the production team at Peter Lang, Phyllis Korper, Stephen Mazur, and Sophie Appel. I would like to thank the superb copy editor for great work. And to my wife Susan, I promise I will wear earphones from now on when I play Southern white trash country music.

Permission graciously granted by Sense Publishers for: “Treasures and Ghosts: In the South, Nothing Is Just Black and White.” In K. Hayes, S. Steinberg, & K. Tobin (Eds.), Key Works in Critical Pedagogy: Joe L. Kincheloe (pp. 27–49). Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense. ← xv | 1 →



Class and Politics

← 1 | 2 →


← 2 | 3 →



The Pedagogic Function of Work(ing-Class) Stories: An Exploration of Culture in the Deep South


As Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron make clear, from the moment we are born into a certain family, a certain neighborhood, a certain class, race, ethnicity, and so on, our primary pedagogy begins. They write, “Pedagogic action entails pedagogic work, a process of inculcation which must last long enough to produce a durable training, i.e., a habitus, the product of internalization of principles of a cultural arbitrary capable of perpetuating itself after pedagogic action has ceased” (1977/1990, p. 31). This pedagogic work does not often entail our parents’ willful effort to teach us anything race- or class-specific when we are, say, 1 or 2 years old. Nonetheless, the very value and belief systems, the very language that is used around us, the very stories we are told or overhear, begin our implicit education—an education that is either reinforced or contradicted later on by the formal schooling that we encounter. Thus, most of us have internalized our home language(s) and worldviews long before formal schooling or the media or other cultural forces bring us to consciously consider our uses of literacy. Understanding Bourdieu and Passeron’s notion of primary pedagogy is central to understanding the value, even the necessity, of ethnographic explorations of community in order to more fully understand the range of worldviews and literate practices that students from various backgrounds bring to college. In his famous ethnography Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, Paul Willis wrote, “The difficult thing to explain about how middle-class kids get middle-class jobs is why others let them. The difficult thing about how working-class kids get working-class jobs is why they let themselves” (1977, p. 1). Willis’s study of 12 working-class English lads revealed that their parents had passed onto them their work values, as well as their aversion to textbook knowledge and their disdain for those who used it. Patrick Finn relates the lads’ rejection of the values and beliefs promoted by public school to what John Ogbu has termed “oppositional identity.” Says Finn, “This basic antithesis between themselves and ← 3 | 4 → the school bred contempt on both sides and the lads’ definition of themselves was formed in part by what they were not” (1999, p. 57). Likewise, my own research reveals how a genre of “asshole boss” stories simultaneously serves an important civic rhetoric function for manual laborers living in a rural, working-class Alabama community, even as those same stories aid youth (young men, in particular) in their formation of an oppositional identity to those with college educations.


I have chosen to call the community in which I grew up “Woodly,” because logging and paper industries have provided the livelihoods for many citizens of this community (both past and present) and because its landscape is comprised of acres of pine and oak woods. Young men from Woodly often go to college and drop out after the first year. Those males who do go on to obtain degrees tend to take up to two years longer than their female counterparts. Some of those degreed young men (including my brother) then seek out the same types of manual labor jobs that their fathers have held: industrial jobs in chemical, coal, and electrical plants, or in paper industries or farming. On the other hand, young women from Woodly who attend college and obtain degrees often move away. Those who do return either stop working upon marriage or work mostly in one of two (nurturing) professions: nursing or education (as K–12 school teachers). Through interviews, I have sought to better understand the relation of middle-class discourse to conception of work that males from this rural community have brought with them to college, as well as the community attitudes and degrees of trust (or lack thereof) felt for people with college degrees. After years of listening with anger and hurt to my own father dramatizing the events of his day at the paper mill, I suspected that such work stories served a certain pedagogic function for the youth of Woodly. Further, because a community’s conceptions of work tend to derive from material conditions, I wanted to find out how the material histories of other Woodly families circulate in that local scene.

Settled in 1817 by farmers, Woodly experienced its boom when a major lumber company came to the community in 1902. According to my great-aunt Ina, “Most people either worked at turpentine or worked at logging.” Today, the lumber company and the railroad that came with it are but a distant memory for those of my paternal grandparents’ generation. Still, with a population of about 200, this small community boasts two churches (one Baptist, the other Assembly of God), one catfish restaurant, and a volunteer fire department.

Covering about 16 square miles, Woodly rests on two perpendicular county roads that sit off the major state highway in a way that almost prevents a stranger from happening into the community. There are no traffic lights, just three stop signs: one at each of the two county road entrances and one at the internal point at which the roads intersect. Woodly homes, ranging from ranch-style brick, to log, to mobile, many with ponds, are usually set about 300 to 400 feet off the road; hay or cattle fields tend to separate one property line from the next. In fact, when a physician from a neighboring town moved to Woodly and bought the 4-acre field that for so long had stood between my parents’ home and that of their neighbor, the rest of the community stood puzzled when he erected his house right next to my parents’ property line, rather than in the middle of the field. As my uncle asked, rhetorically, “Why move to the country if you’re gonna live right up on top of someone?” Woodly people are proud of their country heritage, proud of owning land on which they can hunt and fish and raise a garden, and proud ← 4 | 5 → of living in a community that is, as one resident put it, “A safe place to raise a family, where you’re not worried that your kids are gonna get in gangs or on drugs.”

With respect to income, Woodly households rank amongst the highest in the county. Recent census data placed average household income at two to three times higher than residents in the nearby county seat (who reported an average of $24,000/household). Woodly residents find employment in neighboring towns and counties, often commuting anywhere from 15 to 40 miles to chemical and other manufacturing plants, area schools, and businesses. Most of the male residents of my parents’ generation and now their offspring have been or are wage laborers; mothers usually work as homemakers. In 1985, I was one of eight students from Woodly to graduate high school; of those eight, only I had a parent who had been to college. However, as a growing number of the area’s industrial plants have begun to show a hiring preference for workers with at least 2 years of college, and as the economy has increasingly necessitated two family incomes, Woodly residents are increasingly attending schooling beyond high school. Today, three Woodly residents hold law degrees. Two are men who practice in a neighboring town; the third, a wife to one of these lawyers, does not currently practice law. Within the community are also two women who are registered nurses (my parents’ neighbor, the doctor, has since moved away), two female pharmacists, about six practicing or retired public school teachers, two male preachers, a couple of men who are industrial engineers, and a number of men and women with 2 to 4 years of college who either do not work outside the home or are employed in positions unrelated to their degrees.

If asked their social class, most Woodly residents would proudly proclaim a middle-class affiliation. As both Lynn Z. Bloom and Paul Fussell have noted, most Americans, from Wall Street CEO’s to the working poor, identify themselves as middle class. This is not surprising, considering the prevalence of the myth of America as a classless or middle-class society, and considering the fact that Woodly is home to no people of color or persons from diverse ethnic backgrounds. As Michael Zweig, David Roediger, and Lillian Rubin each have noted, at election time politicians capitalize on this myth. Rubin remarks that both Democrats and Republicans “speak soothing words of compassion about the ‘middle-class squeeze’ and promise help in a variety of ways” (1976, p. xvi). Consistent with the analysis Roediger offers in The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, Rubin suspects that “the words ‘middle class’ may be the election-year code for ‘white people’” (1976, p. xvi). This strong underlying equation of middle-classness with whiteness may account for the reluctance of many Americans, Woodly residents included, to identity themselves as anything other than middle class. To understand Woodly as a working-class community, one needs to look beyond income and even beyond stated class affiliation, for as Michael Zweig asserts, “The great majority of Americans form the working class…. [T]hey account for over 60 percent of the labor force. They are the working class majority” (2000, p. 3). The government often uses a gradational method of classification, placing people along a gradient by income and/or education. Gradational approaches, however, do not account for anthropological factors—such as values, culture and leisure practices, habits, etc.—nor do they take into account Marxist understandings of whether or not one owns one’s labor or works in a dangerous job with little job security or control over supposed “off” time. Why a need for labels or affiliations, you might ask? As the interviews and stories you are about to read will perhaps make clear, drawing connections between class, place, and culture can enhance our understanding of potential barriers or avenues to success in education, in the workplace, and in our communities. ← 5 | 6 →

The Beauticians and the Mechanics

You got a car that needs work: you don’t take it to a beautician. You take it to a mechanic, a professional. They got college degrees. We’re the professionals!
   —Larry, machine tender at the paper mill (All participants, including Larry, have been given pseudonyms.)

The above quote is indicative of the general attitude of Woodly men towards their often college-educated bosses. In fact, many of the men who are shift workers dread the day shift because that is when most of the management works. Larry explained, “You can’t get anything done with him [the company’s paper engineer] around. He’ll create problems, rather than fix’n ’em. He’ll start fiddling with stuff: upping speeds, changing settings. Next thing ya know, we’re down. Our production is usually a lot higher nights and evenings when they’re not around to muck things up.” It was after this statement that Larry provided the beautician analogy that so aptly epitomizes how men from Woodly view guys with college degrees.

Another paper mill worker, Jack, gave the following scenario, providing a great deal of insight into how the daily working conditions of Woodly men can lead to a family distrust of men with college degrees and a distrust of “textbook knowledge”: The mill’s newly hired paper engineer told the shift’s stock tender to run sections of the paper machine at much higher speeds than normal. When the worker voiced his concerns that such speeds would result in a paper breakage, the engineer insisted that the stock tender carry out his directions—to increase production, he insisted. Knowing that another worker had been laid off for insubordination when he had refused to carry out directions with which he disagreed, the stock tender complied—but only after having his foreman record his objections in his log book. Complying resulted in the break the stock tender had anticipated, along with a subsequent loss of 30 tons of paper. A week later, the mill supervisor brought the stock tender before a review committee on charges of “malicious compliance”: for supposedly willfully complying with an instruction he knew would not work. Through a union grievance, the worker was able to get the charges dropped and his pay reinstated; however, this incident only added to a growing tension between the paper machine laborers and supervision. The stock tender’s story quickly circulated amongst his fellow laborers and to his family and friends back at home in Woodly.

The company’s rhetoric is not lost on the mill workers. As Jack put it, “It was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. ‘Malicious compliance’? They think they can just say something like that and make it stick—like we’re some kind of idiots!” Jack’s situation provided good fodder for another “asshole boss” story to tell to his coworkers and (in a toned-down version) to his family. Such situations create for manual laborers and their families (who live with the fear that their fathers and brothers will be laid off without pay or, worse, fired) distrust of the way that people with college degrees use language. For further insight, I interviewed Bob, son of the stock tender Jack had spoken of. Bob can recall countless times when his father has come home angry from work, his only (temporary) relief the opportunity to express to his family his disgust with the company man “who obviously thinks he’s so smart and that I’m an idiot.” According to Bob, his father would tell of the language games that the company men play with the mill workers during “so-called investigations into incidents.” ← 6 | 7 →

Bob particularly remembers his father telling about another worker, Henry, who had been written up for a paper loss that was the direct result of following supervision’s orders. When the worker filed a union grievance, he was brought before a committee of four company men to investigate the events of the day in question. To quote Bob,

Henry told Dad about how they tried to trick him, said they tried to talk to him like they were lawyers—asking him the same question three different times with three different wording—trying to see if he’d change his story. Henry was prepared, though. He’d already heard about how they done that with Donny [another worker]—how they tried to make him lie or to get frustrated and start yell’n and cuss’n.

Bob explained that when previous workers under such duress had yelled or cursed at the company men, they had been laid off for a week, “to cool down and to think about ‘appropriate’ ways to discuss matters.”

Here is a prime example of the sort of middle-class schooling of emotion discussed in Lynn Worsham’s “Going Postal: Pedagogic Violence and the Schooling of Emotion.” Worsham focuses on “the dominant pedagogy of emotion for American middle-class society” (1990, p. 223), explaining that it “…historically has held emotion in a relation of opposition to reason…. This pedagogy mystifies emotion as a natural category and masks its role in a system of power relations that associates emotion with the irrational, the physical, the particular, the private, the feminine, and nonwhite others” (1990, p. 224). Here, we can add working class to the list of categories with which emotion and irrationality is grouped. By associating emotional responses with stupidity, companies deny that “suppressed social responses to the objective conditions of humiliation [are] wrought by structures of subordination and exploitation” (Worsham, 1990, p. 225). Laying off workers, then, serves the pedagogic function of teaching them a lesson for stepping out of their place in the company hierarchy.

In Henry’s case, he had not fallen for the bait. He had remained calm during the questioning, providing consistently worded answers, beating the company men, if you will, at their own word games. Unfortunately, though, Henry is more of an exception than the rule. After years of experiencing firsthand or hearing about such rhetorical manipulation, most of the paper mill workers and their families have developed what Patrick J. Finn describes as the “you can’t fight city hall” attitude (1999, pp. 86–87). As Finn explains, when the dominant theme for working-class people is powerlessness, they develop patterns of communication different from those who imagine themselves capable of using language to effect change in their lives (1999, pp. 86–90). Thus, because many of the paper mill workers imagine themselves incapable of dressing up their words in the same ways that the “beauticians” do (or are unwilling to, out of a sense of masculine pride), they often find themselves either mute or cursing at times when they could attempt to beat the company men at their own word games. We might also note that when the majority of stories circulating around the mill and community end with “and then they laid him off,” the stories themselves serve to carry out the dominant pedagogic message.

When I asked Bob how, after hearing from his father and other Woodly men these types of stories, he ended up working at the paper mill, instead of completing the college degree he had spent 2 years working on, his answer revealed the pedagogic function of those stories: “I don’t know. I guess I just didn’t want to become one of them.” Here, we might recall the lads of Willis’s study and their sense of oppositional identity. I questioned, “Couldn’t you have ← 7 | 8 → gotten an engineering degree and come back and been one of the good bosses, instead?” “No. It wouldn’t have been the same,” Bob answered. Taking off his Braves cap, rubbing his hands over his short brown hair and then over his face, with a chuckle he added, “And, don’t ask me why, Jennifer, cause I can’t explain it. I just know it.”

I knew what Bob meant. I was asking him one of those “what if” questions that Julie Lindquist discovered were so irritating to the patrons of the working-class Chicago bar she studied. As Lindquist puts it, “the rhetorical habit of speculating and raising questions can be seen by members of the working class as yet another technique of manipulation” (1999, p. 232). When Bob took charge of the interview, telling me not to ask him “why?” he was letting me know that he did not intend to play my “what if” game. His comment sets up a binary between what one knows and what one is able to explain, suggesting a distrust or devaluing of knowledge that can be too easily verbalized or recorded (textbook knowledge). Bob’s comment also suggests his caution due to an awareness or fear of the potentially punitive uses to which such explanations might be put.

Like several of my research participants, Bob sought reassurances that I would mask his identity so that should any mill supervision read or get word of this study, he would be in no way implicated. When conducting this study, I occupied an insider/outsider status—because of my positioning as a former Woodly resident who had gone on to pursue advanced degrees. Most of my contacts were people whom I had grown up with and who were now coworkers with my father and brother at the mill or fishing buddies with my brother John. Because Bob and I have been casual friends since high school, he trusted me enough to talk with me but requested that John and I not tell anyone, not even other research participants, that he had spoken with me for this study. He invited John and me to his home for a cookout, asking me to come over for the interview about an hour before John. On his back deck, he shared with me stories of frustration about the work conditions that he, his father, and the other mill workers endure on a daily basis, yet, proud of his 3-bedroom log home and 4 acres of land, Bob was careful to end the interview with, “Work’n at the mill ain’t all bad, though. It has its rewards.”

An interview with Jerry Bass, a chemical plant operator from Woodly, was helpful for further understanding why men from the community often refuse opportunities for educational advancement and salaried positions. Jerry and I have known each other since high school. Three years my senior, Jerry was one of my father’s main fishing buddies. It was not unusual for Jerry, his wife, and their two children to come over to fish or have dinner with my parents on a semiweekly basis. (My father has since passed away.) Thus, Jerry had heard many of my father’s work stories and has through casual conversation over the years shared with my family his own frustrations with the labor conditions at the chemical plant. When I explained to him my research, Jerry agreed to talk with me one evening after he and my father had gone fishing. Our interview took place in my parents’ backyard in the dead 90-degree heat of June in Alabama. Despite my invitation to go inside for the air conditioning, Jerry insisted that we sit outside—on the grounds that it would be “impolite to go into Mrs. Beech’s home all sweaty and stinky.”


XVI, 408
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2013 (September)
identity music reality television education epistemology
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XVI, 408 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

William M. Reynolds (Volume editor)

William M. Reynolds received his Ed.D. in curriculum theory from the University of Rochester. Dr. Reynolds teaches in the Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading at Georgia Southern University. He has authored, co-authored, edited, and co-edited numerous books including Curriculum: A River Runs Through It (2003); Expanding Curriculum Theory: Dispositions and Lines of Flight (2004); The Civic Gospel: A Political Cartography of Christianity (2009); and A Curriculum of Place: Understandings Emerging Through the Southern Mist (2013). He has also published many articles and chapters on issues of curriculum and cultural studies.


Title: Critical Studies of Southern Place
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423 pages