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216 × 138 × 23 mm
192 pages
12 Mar 2018
Field Notes

Hinterland America’s New Landscape of Class and Conflict Phil A. Neel

Over the last forty years, the landscape of the United States has been fundamentally transformed. It is partially visible in the ascendance of glittering, coastal hubs for finance, infotech and the so-called ‘creative class’. But this is only the tip of an economic iceberg, the bulk of which lies in the darkness of the declining heartland or on the dimly lit fringe of sprawling cities. This is America’s Hinterland, populated by towering grain-threshing machines and hunched farmworkers, where labourers drawn from every corner of the world crowd into factories and ‘fulfilment centres’. Driven by an ever-expanding crisis, America’s class structure is recomposing itself in new geographies of race, poverty and production.

Drawing on his direct experience of recent popular unrest, Phil A. Neel provides a close-up view of this landscape in all its grim but captivating detail, and tells the intimate story of a life lived within America’s hinterland.

‘Phil A. Neel reports from far-flung places where people are forced to make do: a train full of migrant workers in southern China; Ferguson, Missouri; Jail Cell, USA. Neel writes in a visceral and stunning style of the slow apocalypse he everywhere finds, and he applies to these encounters a most unusual rigor. Hinterland is the geography lesson I’ve been looking for all year.’ — Rachel Kushner

‘Neel draws attention to the geography of class in Hinterland, identifying both a new working class and the global forces that have shaped it . . . It would be easy for Neel to claim to be an authority on class in rural America on the strength of his own upbringing, as authors such as J. D. Vance have done . . . Neel deliberately avoids this strategy . . . Instead of describing a sense of class that is anchored in a specific region, Neel emphasizes that upheavals and dislocation connect working-class experience across regions and continents . . . Neel doesn’t propose to solve any current "What’s up in Trump country?" debates. Instead he sets out to show the transformation, and often enough the hollowing out, of large tracts of twentieth-century life as the product of global capitalism. Hinterland is hectic and unsystematic but often tonic, not least because few people who think this way have seen most of the places Neel has, let alone from the standpoints he has sometimes occupied – rioter, prisoner, day laborer . . . [Neel’s book] honors the view from below or from the hinterland, where class is something that happens to you, like the weather but worse and more unrelenting. This emphasis has much to recommend it: ethically in its attention to lived experience, politically in its emphasis on concrete conflicts, intellectually in its alertness to variation and nuance . . . A meditation on the opacity of class experience, to those who live in it but also to those who theorize it.’ — New Republic

‘Neel draws on his personal experience of precarious, low-wage labor to highlight the new economic and social geography that global capitalism is shaping. A new entry in the Reaktion Books series Field Notes, which examines 'today’s global turmoil as it unfolds,' Neel’s Hinterland analyzes the increasing agglomeration of wealth and opportunity in a few key urban centers, the resulting hollowing out of rural areas, and the political consequences and opportunities these changes present, chiefly in the United States. Against the decades of global economic restructuring under neoliberalism, with its massive upward redistributions of wealth and widening inequality, something has to give. Neel emphasizes the anger and violence roiling beneath the surface of our daily lives. Whether the pending rebellion can be harnessed to create a more just order or will fuel reactionary, ethnonationalist ends remains to be seen. What seems obvious to Neel, however, is that the center cannot hold.’ — H-Socialisms

‘Hinterland is where the future slouches toward Bethlehem. Phil Neel’s dazzling journeys through the burned-over landscapes of end-time capitalism – the despoiled remnants of rural America, the exfoliating zones of suburban poverty – compel us to rethink what class conflict looks like not only in America, but around the world. The exhausted shibboleths of what’s left of the Left vaporize in the heat of his prose.’ — Steve Fraser, author of The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power

‘Imagine Patrick Leigh Fermor and Karl Marx on a road trip through the hubs and corridors of rust-belt America . . . Ambitious, polemical, brilliant.’ — Arlie Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

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Phil A. Neel was raised in a mobile home in the Siskiyou Mountains, on the border of California and Oregon. He writes regularly on diverse topics and currently lives in Seattle.

Introduction: The Cult of the City

1 Oaths of Blood
2 Silver and Ash
3 The Iron City
4 Oaths of Water