Associate Professor of Anthropology Christine Walley has been awarded the CLR James Award for Best Book, from the Working-Class Studies Association, for "Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago" (University of Chicago Press, 2013).
The mission of the Working-Class Studies Association is to develop and promote multiple forms of scholarship, teaching, and activism related to working-class life and cultures.
"Exit Zero" explores the effects of deindustrialization on Chicago workers and their families. Both an ethnographic study and a personal narrative, the book details the experiences of Walley’s father and thousands of others who lost their jobs during the 1980s, when Chicago’s long-vibrant steel industry abruptly collapsed.
In a 2013 MIT News feature about the book, Peter Dizikes wrote: "Walley also builds an argument that rapid deindustrialization in the United States was not simply the result of seemingly inevitable shifts in the global economy, but a consequence of corporate-friendly policies, and a new emphasis on raising short-term share prices, that pitted the interests of management against the long-term interests of companies and their workers. 'If you really want to understand why there is this expanding class inequality in the United States, one of the places you have to look is the long-term impact of deindustrialization,' Walley says. 'We have to think historically about how we got into this position and how we can come out of it.'"
In November 2013, Walley's book was also awarded second place in the juried competition for the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing. Awarded by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, the Victor Turner Prize honors an innovative book that furthers the goals of the late Victor Turner, who devoted his career to seeking a language that would reopen anthropology to the human subject.
Film and interactive website based on the "Exit Zero" book
In addition to the book, Walley worked with filmmaker Chris Boebel to create a documentary film centered on the human, economic, and environmental devastation left behind in the southeast Chicago region.
Currently, Walley is working on an associated interactive website project, for which she has been awarded a preservation and access grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities through its Humanities Collection Program. The website is being created in conjunction with the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum, and has an advisory board that includes representatives from the Field Museum and the Chicago History Museum.
Walley will receive the CLR James Award officially on June 6 at the Working-Class Studies Association's "How Class Works" conference, which will take place in Stony Brook, N.Y.