Author: Keith V. Bletzer

Down Country Lanes, Behind Abandoned Houses

eBook: US $21 Special Offer (PDF + Printed Copy): US $202
Printed Copy: US $192
Library License: US $84
ISBN: 978-1-68108-105-2 (Print)
ISBN: 978-1-68108-104-5 (Online)
Year of Publication: 2015


Based on six years of extended ethnography in multiple agricultural areas of the Eastern United States, Down Country Lanes, Behind Abandoned Houses is a monograph which explores the lives of migrant and seasonal farm workers. The six-year study secured multi-setting field data in primary, secondary and casual sites, and audio-taped narrative life stories from men and women who harvest and perform the related tasks that help to make the many foods which we enjoy in abundance. The study presented in this book elaborates vignettes from field observations with a focus on workers who use drugs and alcohol, and is complemented by formal (narrative life stories) and informal interviews. The author explores diverse field data that reveal the hardships, exclusion and social adversities that migrant farm workers experience many times more often than any other social group with considerable susceptibility to drug / alcohol use.

Down Country Lanes, Behind Abandoned Houses gives readers a perspective about farm workers’ social vulnerability across multiple agricultural areas, while comparing willful neglect and social non-existence experienced by farm workers to a gray zone of contemporary horrors in the way that these men and women have been viewed and treated over many decades. The monograph is an invaluable reference for the study of social problems, substance abuse, trans-national migratory experiences and field methods in sociology. The book also serves as a contemporary handbook on the anthropology of American agricultural labor.

Indexed in: Book Citation Index, Social Sciences & Humanities, EBSCO.


This is a beautifully written ethnography that richly describes the gray zones of society where many agricultural workers in the U.S. spend their lives. Keith Bletzer’s ethnography adds to those anthropological works that through their detailed and sensitive portrayals of lives lived in extremes contribute to developing more just labor conditions and a more just world. This work is a must read for understanding the labor force that puts food on our family tables.

Bletzer’s book is based on over six years of fieldwork in and around multiple communities of farmworkers in several states. Bletzer uses a strongly ethnographic approach complemented with short personal insights from his background that help the reader to understand why he researches in the way that he does. Much of Bletzer’s time is spent being with the subjects of his studies in the places where they spend their time hanging out between field jobs. It is on the street corners, in the bars and in the abandoned lots where the encounters between the ethnographer and, as he calls them, his “tutors” happen. We get the feel that we are hanging out and listening in, too, in the most intimate of ways.

While the overall theme of the book is addiction and the activities that surround using drugs and alcohol, this book brings to the reader a sensitive contextualization of these activities. He makes apparent the logic of drinking, drugging and sex work. We are given the narratives of insiders that show how individuals living in bare life situations use substances like alcohol and crack to dull the pain and the hunger and also how they use their highs to strut their stuff, to engage in power plays, to perform their lives to the best of their abilities. Bletzer gets into the lives of these men and women in a very real way.

With the current and on-going debates related to unauthorized immigration to the US, especially from Latin America, this book describes the tenuous places that individuals have come to occupy years and decades after their journeys crossing borders looking for better lives. While not all the farmworkers described by Bletzer are from Latin America, many are. These narratives give us a picture of uprooted lives.

The reader gets a feel for how one learns addiction on these difficult roads. The need and/or desire to take drugs and drink are embedded in the struggle of searching for work, for respect and for a way to get by. We also see how the different kinds of drugs used by individuals change over their lives and in evolving circumstances. They are in and out of mental hospitals, rehab programs and jail oftentimes spiraling down to very personally dangerous lows. Bletzer’s thoughtful accounts of the cultural meanings of sex and of food create a nuanced background for the reader to understand the choices and the foibles of the individuals he brings to his readers.

Elizabeth Cartwright
Department of Anthropology
Idaho State University


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