Thursday, March 31, 2016

Legal History Blog on Cows, Cars Criminals at Princeton: Space Along the Rural-Urban Continuum (Part I)

I gave the keynote address last Friday at the Princeton University American Studies Conference, Life and Law in Rural America:  Cows, Cars and Criminals.  The title of my talk was "Why Rural?  (or, On Being a Ruralist)."

One of the organizers of the conference was Emily Prifogle, a PhD student in history at Princeton, and a UC Berkeley law graduate.  Several other presenters are also working on their PhDs in history, at the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Pennsylvania.  They are writing installments over at the Legal History blog on the various panels.  The first is by Emily Prifogle, and her concluding paragraph from that post about the Rural-Urban Continuum is here:
The most important comment Devienne [the commentator/discussant for the panel] made, in my opinion, was her inquiry whether any of these contributions or claims are inherent or unique to studies of rurality. Indeed, she noted, as an urban historian, much of this seems akin to studying places like New York or Los Angeles. For me, this might be a key for future studies of legal ruralism. Historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and other researchers focusing on rural places and people are not just studying dying parts of the country. Research on small places, I believe, is important in its own right, but it also contributes to what we know about urban communities and mainstream culture. Like other studies of place, studies of small and rural communities make use of many of the same methodologies as urban and legal historians. Importantly, what they add, however, is a reminder that the law does not operate equally and in the same way everywhere. Space and place matters, and can complicate how intersections of race, gender, class, and disability affect individuals and communities. By focusing on rural communities, “ruralists” do much more than contribute to a growing body of literature on rural places, they also illuminate how scholarship on everything from the administrative state to capitalism operates differently when viewed from new locations.
It's an important observation and one that I made in my keynote, too:  one reason to study the rural is what it reveals about the (implicit) urban norm--the center, if you will.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rurality and the recent political attention to the white poor and white working class ...

The media have been flush in recent weeks with commentary on the role of the white working class, along with poor whites, in this Presidential campaign cycle.  One strand of the commentary is about how the Republican establishment has turned on those who had (apparently) become their base:  poor and working class whites who are now supporting Donald Trump.  I want to talk about how rurality is implicated in all of this, a topic (sadly) similar to my 2011 law review article, The Geography of the Class Culture Wars, about the 2008 campaign season.  I guess we can think of this blog post (the first in a short series) as Part II of that law review article.

Let me start with Thomas Edsall's piece in today's New York Times because he summarizes some territory that has been covered in recent weeks--well, territory that "began" with a couple of pieces in the National Review, the unapologetically conservative publication.   Edsall's piece is titled, "Who are the Angriest Republicans?"  He leads with these sentences:
Conservatives who once derided upscale liberals as latte-sipping losers now burst with contempt for the lower-income followers of Donald J. Trump. 
These blue-collar white Republicans, a mainstay of the conservative coalition for decades, are now vilified by their former right-wing allies as a “non-Christian” force “in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture,” corrupted by the same “sense of entitlement” that Democratic minorities were formerly accused of. 
Kevin Williamson, a columnist for National Review, initiated the most recent escalation of this particular Republican-against-Republican power struggle.
Edsall goes on to quote some of Williamson's more incendiary comments:
They [the poor whites] failed themselves. If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog— you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be.
(emphasis added).  Note the mention of various rural places ... places that are mostly white.  (See more below)  And then there was this, to drive home the domestic v. foreign, rural v. urban distinction:
There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America.
 * * * 

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.
Pretty harsh stuff, but it doesn't stop there.  There is also this quote from David French, also of the National Review, being an apologist for Williamson a week or so after Williamson's column appeared:
I grew up in Kentucky, live in a rural county in Tennessee, and have seen the challenges of the white working-class first-hand. Simply put, Americans are killing themselves and destroying their families at an alarming rate. No one is making them do it. The economy isn’t putting a bottle in their hand. Immigrants aren’t making them cheat on their wives or snort OxyContin. Obama isn’t walking them into the lawyer’s office to force them to file a bogus disability claim.
(For more on the drug issue, see this and this).

I could just stop at this point and again observe the focus on places like Tennessee and Kentucky and West Texas and upstate New York as proving my point that the white underclass has come to be associated with rural America.  But wait, there's more.  One of the examples that Williamson used in his initial column is from a specific rural place--indeed, a "hamlet"--called Garbutt, New York.  Here's the quote:
There was no Garbutt, N.Y., until 1804, when Zachariah Garbutt and his son John settled there. They built a grist mill, and, in the course of digging its foundations, they discovered a rich vein of gypsum, at that time used as a fertilizer. A gypsum industry sprang up and ran its course. Then Garbutt died. “As the years passed away, a change came over the spirit of their dream,” wrote local historian George E. Slocum. “Their church was demolished and its timber put to an ignoble use; their schools were reduced to one, and that a primary; their hotels were converted into dwelling houses; their workshops, one by one, slowly and silently sank from sight until there was but little left to the burg except its name.”
Here's the wikipedia entry on Garbutt, New York, the dying, rural place Williamson focuses on in his sad tale of population loss, of a rural place drying up and blowing away, so to speak, because its only economic engine eventually petered out.  To this, no talk from the right-wing about "just transitions" for these communities.  No, from Williamson, just this prescription:

They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.
In other words, move to the city.  Indeed, that refrain is echoed by French's follow up piece:  
Kevin is right. If getting a job means renting a U-Haul, rent the U-Haul. You have nothing to lose but your government check.
If only it were all as simple as moving to town ...

There is more still to say about this conflation of poor and working class whites with rurality, including scholarly work that challenges us to probe the depths of what became known as white trash.  More on that in a subsequent post.

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

China looking at implications for children of rural-urban migration

Emily Feng reports today for Sinosphere in the New York Times:
The Chinese government plans to conduct the country’s first comprehensive survey of rural children left behind by parents who have migrated to cities in search of work, the China Youth Daily has reported
The move comes after a series of reports on the plight of “left-behind” children, who are often put in the care of older relatives or are sometimes abandoned. Researchers say that many of these children have anxiety and depression, and that they exhibit high rates of juvenile delinquency and poor school performance.
Other posts about rural-urban migration in China--its causes, consequences, and the state's responses to it--are here, herehere, and here.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Today and Tomorrow at Princeton University, Life and Law in Rural America: Cows, Cars and Criminals

I'll be giving a keynote this afternoon, "Why Rural? (or, On Being a Ruralist)."  Among the scholars participating are historians, anthropologists, sociologists, criminologists, scholars of American studies and religion ...

  Find more details here.  Follow on Twitter at #cowscarscriminals

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some mention of distance, though not rural women, in NYT coverage of Texas abortion clinic closure

Abby Goodnough reported in the NYTimes yesterday under the headline, "Texas Abortion Law Has Women Waiting Longer, Paying More," in a story that features more metro centric coverage of the current state of abortion availability in Texas following the implementation of Texas H.B. 2.  (Read more here and here.)  The piece focuses on the availability of abortion in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan area, featuring the story of a woman who lives in that conurbation.  The story includes barely a mention of rural women, who are even more disserved by the law, though it does talk about the great distances that some women are traveling--say from El Paso into New Mexico--to procure an abortion.

The Texas law, passed in 2013, has closed so many clinics that the remaining abortion providers now have long waiting lists for women seeking the procedure.  What gets little mention in this story or in the recent oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt is that the women who live farthest from the handful of providers able to remain open--all in east and north Texas, along the I-35 and I-45 corridors--not only face those same long waits, they must traverse great distances, sometimes multiple times, to reach the clinics.  Here's the little bit that Goodnough did include about women living outside major metropolitan areas:
Other patients at the [Fort Worth] clinic that weekend had driven from Lubbock, about 300 miles away, and Odessa, 320 miles away.
Odessa, with a population of just 100,000, is in west Texas, and Lubbock is somewhat north of there, with a population of about 250,000.  Lubbock previously had an abortion provider, and there was also a provider much closer to Odessa, in Midland, before the first phase of Texas H.B. 2 went into effect a few years ago.

Goodnough also illustrates the distance challenge--but again in relation to a metropolitan woman--with a young woman who had traveled from El Paso to Albuquerque (about four hours) to get an abortion.  Although an abortion clinic in El Paso remains open for now (it will close if the Supreme Court upholds the Fifth Circuit's determination of H.B. 2's constitutionality), the El Paso woman was not able to have an abortion there because her pregnancy was at 16 weeks by the time she could get an appointment, and that necessitated a trip to a clinic that performs abortions in the second trimester.  For the woman in El Paso, that meant either Albuquerque or San Antonio, and the former was closer.

Meanwhile, over at, Laura Moser reports under the headline, "Long Road Ahead" in a story that, as the headline suggests, attends somewhat more to the distance/transportation issue, but again from a metropolitan perspective.  Here is an excerpt with some cold hard facts about the consequences of H.B.2:
For women whose nearest clinic closed (38%), the mean one-way distance traveled was 85 miles, compared with 22 miles for women whose nearest clinic remained open. … [M]ore women whose nearest clinic closed traveled more than 50 miles (44% vs 10%), had out-of-pocket expenses greater than $100 (32% vs 20%), had a frustrated demand for medication abortion (37% vs 22%), and reported that it was somewhat or very hard to get to the clinic.  
The focus of the Moser story is an organization, Clinic Access Support Network, that provides transport to get women to and from abortion clinics, primarily in greater Houston.
Angie Hayes, who started the organization in August 2013, was volunteering as a clinic escort when she noticed a number of women showing up and leaving in cabs (since, of course, you cannot drive yourself home from an abortion). ... She started organizing an informal network of volunteer drivers, and it snowballed from there: CASN now has about 36 volunteers and drives about 150 Houston-area women per year.
* * *
CASN isn’t getting calls from the abortion desert that is the Rio Grande Valley yet, but women are requesting rides from Texas A&M, 100 miles away (the abortion clinic in Bryan, a town 10 minutes from A&M, closed in 2013), from 85 miles away in Beaumont (its only abortion clinic closed in 2014), and 75 miles away in Brenham. But most calls come from inside Houston, a city so sprawling that 25 Manhattans could fit inside it.
Cross-posted to Feminist Legal Theory.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em (in rural America, that is)

Maybe that's what Washington Post journalist Christopher Ingraham decided.  NPR reports today that he is moving to Red Lake County, Minnesota, population 4,303.   The irony in this move is that last fall, Ingraham wrote in the Post that "Red Lake county" is the "absolute worst place to live in America" based on a USDA natural amenities index.  In that story, Ingraham mapped each county based on the index, devised in the late 1990s, which combined "six measures of climate, topography, and water area that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer." Those qualities include mild, sunny winters, temperate summers, low humidity, topographic variation, and access to a body of water.  (In case you're wondering, the most desirable place to live in America, according to the index, was Ventura County, California).  

After that story ran, Ingraham wrote a second story about Red Lake County, this one headlined, "Thick Coats, Thin Skins:  Why Minnesotans Were Outraged by a Recent Washington Post Report."  It led with the line, "Hell hath no fury like a Minnesotan scorned."  In short, Minnesotans took to Twitter to defend their state's honor.
Soon, the denizens of self-proclaimed "Indignant Minnesota Twitter" started sending photos and testimonials to refute the notion that Minnesota is somehow lacking in beauty of natural amenities.
* * * 
Some started a hashtag, #ShowMeYourUglyCounties, to showcase Minnesota's beauty.
Well worth popping over to Twitter just to look at those photos!

Shortly thereafter, Ingraham visited Red Lake County, about which he writes:
The visit was a shot of pure country. A newborn calf suckled my thumb as the brothers told me about life on the farm. The earthy smells of a dairy operation — manure and hay and sawdust and dirt — hung thick in the air. It sure didn't seem like the worst place in America — or one particularly lacking in natural amenities, or natural beauty, either. 
* * *  
[W]hat I found most striking is how friendly everyone I'd met had been. They were fiercely proud of their community in a way I'd never seen before — not even during my childhood in small-town upstate New York. 'We don't welcome people like this when they come to D.C.,' I kept saying to people, dumbfounded."
Then, a few weeks ago, Ingraham announced he's moving to Red Lake County, confirming on Twitter that it's "no joke."
I kind of fell in love with Red Lake County when I visited last year and we've always wanted to raise the boys in the country.  
* * *  
The cows were lovely.  Hopefully, we can move next to the cows."
So there you have it:  if you can't beat 'em (the rural folks that is), you can do what Ingraham is doing--you can join 'em!  Though I admit this story is making me wonder:  Is the Washington Post going to let Ingraham telecommute?  If not, what's he going to do for a living in Red Lake County?

P.S.  There is one other thing ruralites/scholars of the rural/rural aficionados will want to note about Ingraham's initial post, and it regards rural population loss:
[I]t turns out that this [USDA] index correlates well with a lot of human behaviors that researchers and politicians are constantly trying to understand better. For instance, the USDA's original report on the natural amenities index found that these measures "drive rural population change." The USDA found that rural areas with a lot of natural amenities saw the greatest population change between 1970 and 1996. 
"The relationship is quite strong," the study found. "Counties with extremely low scores on the scale tended to lose population over the 1970-96 period, while counties with extremely high scores tended to double their populations over the period."
Here's a piece from the Carsey Institute a few years ago on "the four rural Americas."  Note the amenity-rich category, without the (USDA) skewing toward warm climates.