Book Report on Tobacco Town Futures

Book Report on Tobacco Town Futures

In the article Tobacco Town Futures, Ann Kingsolver’s ethnographic study of Nicolas County, Kentucky, is both a confessional and a critical story. It chronicles the economic growth of Kentucky over time, as well as how changes in culture and globalization impact the county. Tobacco farming is the primary source of income in Nicolas County. According to Kingsolver, the immediate family consists of everyone involved in the care of tobacco, from cultivating to tending to harvesting. Each family member seeks employment in a factory to provide health coverage for the entire family. The area has tried to stay alive by keeping production plants in town and stimulating tourists’ interest in heritage landmarks and small-town charm. Young people in the region choose to leave for college and jobs, with many deciding outside Nicolas County. Kingsolver examines the financial and moral hardships of growers, the difficult circumstances that affect the citizens of Nicholas County, and the complex politics of citizenship and economic disaster in communities dependent on this most detrimental product, drawing on decades of field research.

Methods Used in the Research

To obtain information on tobacco in Kentucky, Ann Kingsolver mainly used interviews. During interviews, Kingsolver found herself trying to share her thoughts on what she finds problematic about the tobacco industry and the contributions of industrial agriculture to major public health issues. Her rapport exemplified the openness that characterizes ethnography. She inquired as to how they became involved in farming, how and why they have continued, and the significant changes that farm families have faced, only to have them begin discussing controversial ethical and medical concerns without my even mentioning it. The editors discovered a particular disparity. In this case, the one man had discovered to farm according to the best and the most accepted techniques, while the other man cultivated without a system, just as his father did thirty years ago. This was affirmed through interview sessions with men dubbed “the most successful farmers.”

Kingsolver also used questionnaires. According to the questionnaires, cash is being used to repay farm loans and invest in new farm equipment, often done through local lenders and agricultural suppliers. Many growers also indicate that they made an investment in chicken farming, with those who received large sums establishing trust funds for their kids, which is hardly the ideal way of reimbursing struggling businesses for hardships or losses. This helps to diversify the regional economy. No growers informed me that the funds were used to enhance labor camps. Neither did beneficiaries see the exchanges as a means of shifting away from tobacco farming and toward another cash crop. The transfers were primarily used to assist landowners’ and aging growers’ private pensions or enable active farmers to automate their processes further to increase global and local competitive strength.

Kingsolver’s goal is not to quantify the extent to which this discussion about disrespect and inequity, which is also amplified on conservative talk radio, reflects genuine affection for lack of respect versus a victim-blaming strategy. Kingsolver’s point is that the conceptual scope of actual farm loss, foreclosure, and losing business has been coproduced alongside narratives and pictures of the plight. That nudged growers to embrace a victimization language and see the state and population health as opponents because a detrimental industry sought to foster devotion and fantasy at the grassroots level.

Survey of Different Chapters

Kingsolver has managed to write a concise, precise account of the happenings in Nicholas County in several chapters. She makes the modest claim early in the text that the targeted readers for this book are citizens of her home county of Nicholas and pupils in introductory cultural anthropology classes. She includes lists of study questions in her chapters to stimulate discussion and thought. The first section on “Development Plans” contains a wealth of material for college-level discourse: the North American Free Trade Treaty’s effect; industrial organization and rural industrialization; tourism, and the service sector as job creators. Economic growth is achieved through increased economic productivity and trade through modernized manufacturing and agriculture. Toyota was given $193 million in the land, worker training, and prospective tax breaks to ensure their new factory was located in Kentucky. This is consistent with the concept of trickle-down growth. The Toyota plant saves money and, as a result, employs many Kentuckians, allowing them to provide for their households. Reduced government spending on public services is part of the growth-oriented growth strategy. The administration has frequently cut funding on the costly Nicolas County Industrial Development Authority initiative.

In Chapter 3, Kingsolver characterizes one farmer’s idealistic development path known as the Kentucky Farmers First Program. This involves a plan to market local farm produce locally and more effectively, broadening farm production away from reliance on tobacco while meeting the requirements of places like Kentucky Fried Chicken with domestically sourced birds. This failed since it was too far ahead of the times. Tom Hensley, a farmer, was trying to promote regional integration when societies were contending for markets and advancement alternatives that preferred attracting sector. Based on Anne Kingsolver, Tom’s economic growth proposal, with its focus on town planning along with the river system, local food production, diversifying of agriculture into numerous alternatives to tobacco with strong marketing agreements, and vertical integration of the agriculture sector would blend perfectly into discussions about the future of agriculture in Kentucky.

The “How to Live in a Small Town” chapter delves into the “skills and resources, not lack of supply, related to small-town life.” It serves as a point of reference for readers, irrespective of where they were brought up. Kingsolver returns to a previous theme: the rural south’s growing ethnic diversity, especially with the rise of the Latino population, and how this cultural identity development fits within traditional elements of segregation and alterity. Although she squanders a chance to include Latino voices, she did raise most of the same concerns that Benson addresses in greater depth in his research on faciality.

The final chapter, “Tobacco Town Futures,” considers possible futures for Nicholas County and profiles how a few farmers have adjusted to agriculture-based economy modifications. This was caused by the end of the national tobacco program and the novel free market that has emerged in its place. The methods in which these men and women have adapted to changing situations provide instances of credible alternative futures at a time when American farmers and the communities that supply them and, in turn, rely on their corporate face intimidating obstacles in the face of mounting requests to end agricultural price assistance and subsidization. A postscript includes essays by Nicholas County youth outlining their visions for the county’s long term.


Tobacco Town Futures is devoted to the kids of Nicholas County, and all proceeds benefit the county’s school systems. Ann Kingsolver sponsored an essay competition for seventh, eighth, and ninth graders in 2010 about the coming years of Nicholas County. The winning essays are presented in a postscript, allowing them to “have the last word .”To use John Van Maanen’s phrase, Tobacco Town Futures is part redemptive, part critical. Kingsolver’s report is founded on two primary audiences. They include all Nicholas County citizens and introductory cultural anthropology learners. Individual names and details may be more critical to the first group of readers than to the second. The second group may have a more substantial interest in anthropological constructs than the first.

Ann Kingsolver documented antagonistic social relationships among white farmers and a multi-ethnic farm workforce in Kentucky’s tobacco region. She contends that white farmers have provocatively stereotyped agricultural work, drawing on rich historical accounts. To conceal a legacy of severe economic interdependence on enslaved Africans, Irish immigrants, and, more recently, Mexican and Central American migrant workers and maintain a philosophy of independent yeomanry. She refers to this exercise as “strategic alterity,” which she defines as shifting between strategic assertions of inclusion and exclusion to devalue a group of people and cover up the framework for strategic devalorization. This model focuses on a fundamental intersection of class, race, and civilization on tobacco farms. However, it seems to isolate farmers as the source of backlash, only momentarily touching on the public nature of connotation in the broader culture, adjustments within the tobacco industry, and how subordinated employees participate actively in discriminatory practices and stigmatizing. The strategic change appears to be a static process repeated among growers across generations, with migrants now filling a specific “slot,” a subordinate structural stance.

Tobacco’s tentacular nature prompts me to consider innocence and complicity in this broad historical context. What is most intriguing about tobacco is not the satire that people make a sanctioned by the government living from this most harmful substance, but rather the contrary: that the large percentage of individuals in the United States presumably have no connection to tobacco or its harms. Despite these criticisms, I believe readers of all backgrounds and experiences can benefit from Tobacco Town Futures. The book not only provides a richer comprehension of rural life amid revolutionary change, but it also provides new ways for readers to think about, and unique points of reference against which to quantify, their prospects. The “questions for students” at the end of each chapter are quite good. Ann Kingsolver is considered a native ethnographer whose dedication to deep investigation among friends, neighbors, and relatives has contributed to anthropological theory. She expands on that contribution in this book, providing deeper insight into and richer comprehension of her community.


Humans have become more efficient at making hazardous materials, such as guns, nuclear waste, dioxin, bourbon, and tobacco. We appear to be an amazingly foolish species, exposing ourselves and each other to these and other dangers and even incentivizing our compatriots to engage in unsafe and harmful behavior and attitude. Nicolas County is a hub of interconnectivity and societal shift. There are numerous types of development taking place in the area, the most visible of which is industrialization. Many Nicolas County residents were “functionally illiterate.” This framework aids literacy and education. Many plans have been made to bring about change, but it is often difficult to persuade an area so ingrained in its attempt to modify. Nicolas County’s future is dependent on the people’s capacity to adjust and respond to changing forms of development in the years ahead.

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