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.


Agriculture has led to continuing shifts in human lifestyles. With it, we moved to growing what we once gathered as nomadic bands, and selling foods whose ancestor species we gradually domesticated. Industrialized farming, the present-day version, has never had the full protections legislated for other U.S. labor categories. Willful negligence permeates agriculture, resulting in isolation and social exclusion, and inattention to basic human needs. Hidden within agriculture are the seeds for a gray zone where workers experience the bare life that is re-created by local infra-structures that render them marginal to privileges experienced by and guaranteed to others. Drug and alcohol use are among the positional consequences to farm workers. Though fascinated by agricultural production, in the end, we too often ignore the men and women, both young and old, who perform the labor that provides our food.

Despite their role in the production of perishable fruits and vegetables, sold canned or fresh, and the grains used in the manufacture of synthetic foods, farm workers are the people who are “invisible and voiceless”, when we think of full labor rights and the systematic enforcement of existing occupational health and safety laws. Farm workers put in long hours generally outdoors, experience sub-standard housing, receive low wages for demanding work, all the while they remain isolated from the rest of society. Routine tasks simplify their labor but generate fatigue, body aches, and the potential for serious accidents as well as the boredom that accompanies succession of the same tasks performed by repetitive body motions.

To ease the pain and cope with their working and living conditions, many workers drink and some use drugs. They seek illicit supplies in familiar areas where they live and/or accept what is offered by labor contractors and third parties while traveling on-the-season, and rare few sellers who arise from their ranks. Borrowing from idioms of criminal justice and addiction services, we can speak of a process of “willful neglect” in agriculture that “enables” farm worker drug use.

Based on six years of extended ethnography in multiple states, this monograph explores the lives of farm workers who use drugs/alcohol. Six additional years were spent analyzing materials for formal presentations to professionals in academia and, importantly, to frontline workers who provide health services to agricultural workers at forums in three regions of the United States.


I am grateful for financial support for the Drug Use Onset Study from Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (Grant #6206, “Inscription in Drug Use among Farmworkers”, K.V. Bletzer, Principal Investigator); transcription of field tapes with a Faculty Grant-in-Aid from College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University; analysis of field materials through a National Research Service Award, Arizona State University; and inclusion in the Migrant Worker Risk Study, funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grant #DA07694, “Drugs/AIDS Intervention among Migrant Workers”, Norman Weatherby, Principal Investigator). I acknowledge eighteen transcribers in two states who transcribed tapes (identified in Appendix G). I am indebted to farm workers and others for support extended over six years that I spent in fieldwork, and to the many professionals at conferences and community programs for an additional six years and beyond of continued learning.


The author confirms that this ebook contents have no conflict of interest.

Keith V. Bletzer
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ (USA)


To Mölo, Cookie, and Yiyi … His, hers, and mine

For teaching me the ways of horticulture, nutrition, and what it means to educate

To Anthony Espinoza

For recognizing in me the persistence to arrive, despite the enveloping storm

VTo Joe, Scott, Lou, John, Art … Nicholas, Owen, and Charles

For providing training and tools that one needs to do ethnography

To Norman and Jenny and other team members

For the opportunity to take research to the team level

To Joan, Bob, and Mary

For the opportunity to learn to sustain the next level

To the many farm workers who served as tutors, narrators, and players

To the many farm workers who provide the labor that harvests our food

To the many farm workers who persist despite the storms of vulnerability

To Salma Sarfaraz and her editorial staff for their care, dedication and editing finesse


.Thriving Across the Lifespan and Around the Globe: Day in the Life Visual Research Approach.
.Causal Inference and Scientific Paradigms in Epidemiology.
.Humanitarian Crises and International Relations 1959-2013.