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Agriculture and working-class political culture: A lesson from The Grapes of Wrath


  • Paul Thompson



John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel can be given a reading that links events and the mentality of characters to mainstream schools of liberal and neo-liberal political theory: libertarianism, egalitarianism, and utilitarianism. Each of these schools is sketched in outline and applied to topics in rural political culture. While it is likely that Steinbeck himself would have identified with an egalitarian or utilitarian view, he resists the temptation to deny his Okie characters an authentic voice that matches none of these schools so well as it articulates an agrarian mentality once associated with Thomas Jefferson and today articulated by Wendell Berry. This reading of The Grapes of Wrath, in turn, can be interpreted as both a rebuke to contemporary social theorists who continue to impose an ill-fitting left-right dichotomy on working class political culture in rural America and as a roadmap suggesting ways that philosophy and rural sociology might engage one another more directly and productively with respect to contemporary rural development and environmental quality issues. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Suggested Citation

  • Paul Thompson, 2007. "Agriculture and working-class political culture: A lesson from The Grapes of Wrath," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 24(2), pages 165-177, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:24:y:2007:i:2:p:165-177
    DOI: 10.1007/s10460-006-9050-0

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bentham, Jeremy, 1781. "An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number bentham1781.
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    Cited by:

    1. Harvey James, 2008. "From the editor," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 25(1), pages 1-2, January.
    2. Diebel, Penelope L., 2008. "Ethics and Agriculture: A Teaching Perspective," Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Western Agricultural Economics Association, vol. 33(3), December.


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