In a climate of culture wars and tremendous economic uncertainty, America is often reduced to a simplistic schism between red states and blue states. In response to that oversimplification, journalist Dante Chinni teamed up with political geographer James Gimpel to launch the Patchwork Nation project, using on-the-ground reporting and statistical analysis to get past generalizations and probe American communities in depth. The result is Our Patchwork Nation, a refreshing, sometimes startling look at how America's diversities often defy conventional wisdom.
Looking at the data, they recognized that the country breaks into 12 distinct types of communities, and old categories like "soccer mom" and "working class" don't matter as much as we think. These communities include:
By examining these populations, the authors demonstrate that the subtle distinctions in how Americans vote, invest, shop, and otherwise behave reflect what they experience on their local streets and in their daily lives. Our Patchwork Nation is a brilliant new way to debate and examine the issues that matter most to our communities - and to our nation.
©2010 Dante Chinni and James Gimpel (P)2010 Tantor
"[Our Patchwork Nation] is a captivating and at times surprising analysis, both rigorous and accessible, which suggests that while the country as a whole is going through a period of economic restructuring and technological transformation, how each region experiences these changes creates in effect 12 different realities." (Kirkus Reviews)
mostly nonfiction listener
Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the "Real" America, by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel, is a book that reminds me why I got into the social science game to begin with.
If I were still teaching sociology (and I miss teaching!), the next course I designed would be totally around Patchwork Nation.
The idea of Patchwork Nation came out of Chinni's and Gimpel's frustration with the Red State / Blue State media divide. They thought that there had to be a more nuanced and accurate framework to understand elections, politics, economics and culture. Using a variety of data sources, they came up with a framework that includes 12 types of communities (with the county as the unit of analysis):
Campus and Careers
Service Worker Centers
You can check out what community type you live in at the Patchwork Nation website. Where do you live? Does the description on the site (or in the book) of your county ring true to your experience?
Not surprisingly, I live in a "Campus and Careers" county , defined as "…cities and towns with young, educated populations; more secular and Democratic than other American communities". The representative community for Campus and Careers is Ann Arbor, MI.
The combination of the book and the website provides all the material necessary for a great class. I think that the authors are willing to make part of the data they used to construct their analysis available to other researchers (and students) to analyze.
Think about how much richer the Patchwork Nation framework would be if student researchers contributed new forms of analysis to the public educational commons.
Near the top
The Nine Nations of North America
Southerners can be very smart sometimes.
A good read
These guys have no balls, and this book is pretty limp as a result. Yeah, a lot of the data that they have gathered is interesting, and the way they have broken up the nation into categories is novel, but this is a long way from groundbreaking stuff. A lot of my annoyance comes from the fact that the authors are trying to be more nuanced than simply red and blue state categories, but come up with categories that feel forced. "Moneyed Burbs" is a particularly odd grouping. They say these counties have wealthy, educated residents, that can vote either way depending on the performance of thier stock portfolios. In this category they include San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Santa Fe. Last time I checked, hell was more likely to open a ski resort than these counties would be to vote Republican. The authors seem so scared to piss anyone off that they choose to report just the right facts to make themselves seem as centrist as a 50 yard line. Weak sauce if you ask me. Still, I did learn a few things about some parts of the country that I likely won't be moving to any time soon. The narrator is a champ. I'd love to hear more books read by him, because he's one of the best I've heard. If you're a big time political nerd like me, this book is worth a listen. But you'll not find it to be something that drastically impacts the way you look at elections. That's my view, at least.
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