Front cover image for Limbo : blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams

Limbo : blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams

This work of narrative nonfiction uncovers a cultural phenomenon, the limbo existence of people raised in blue-collar families, living white-collar lives. Its approach is threefold: first, the personal story of the author himself, a working-class kid from Brooklyn who crossed over to the middle class after attaining an Ivy League education; second, a distillation of thought about class and mobility from leading experts; and finally, and most importantly, the stories of more than 100 interviewees, all "Straddlers" struggling with the duality that exists in their workplace, their hearts, and their minds. This work is a treatise on the lasting consequences of class mobility in America. Drawing on his own story as well as on dozens more from individuals who share his experience, the author, a journalist sheds light on the predicament of some 13 million Americans: reconciling their blue-collar upbringing with the white-collar world they now inhabit. The son of a Brooklyn bricklayer, the author came of age in a neighborhood imbued with typical working-class values like the importance of hard work, loyalty to family and community, and a healthy respect for religion. Academically gifted, he attended Columbia University, and went on to achieve professional success as a reporter. But he quickly found that the lessons he had absorbed in childhood would not serve him as well as the upper-class gifts of subtlety, diplomacy, and cultural capital, leaving him strangely isolated from both his workplace peers and the world he had left behind. Unfamiliar with the rules of upper-class life, which serves as the model for corporate culture, the "Straddlers" (as he dubs them) find themselves ill-equipped for that buttoned-down world. Yet they share the author's ambiguity, and their choices frequently challenge the philosophical and moral assumptions of working-class life. Combining personal stories with the latest thinking from leading experts, this work offers a blend of first-person confessional and sociological study that is both profoundly affecting and rigorously informed. Though it wholly dismisses the widely held notion that class is a dead subject in America, it avoids cynicism and easy judgment, seeking only to provide a glimpse at what lies beneath our social and cultural fabric. The profiles here show a remarkable consistency of emotion and experience across a diverse demographic that crosses all boundaries of sex, race, and religion. Opening a long-awaited dialogue, this work reflects the reality of a unique class struggling with an all-American brand of cultural isolation. These are stories of life in our modern meritocracy
Print Book, English, ©2004
Wiley, Hoboken, NJ, ©2004