- Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams
Alfred Lubrano, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a commentator for National Public Radio, begins his book in the following manner: "I am two people. I now live a middle-class life, working at a white-collar newspaperman's job, but I was born blue collar. I've never reconciled the dichotomy. This book is a step toward understanding what people gain and what they leave behind as they move from the working class to the middle class" (1). Lubrano's goal "was to write a book about an existing social class, the white-collar children—first-generation college graduates— [End Page 440] of blue-collar parents, and to write one that would be accessible to those without a Ph.D." (1).
Lubrano describes these individuals as "Straddlers" because they attempt to live in two different cultures. Unfortunately, they are often not at home in either culture, so they exist in a kind of limbo between the two worlds. Lubrano interviewed one hundred Straddlers who ranged in age from 18 to 70. All of the individuals expressed "remarkably similar emotions as they tell strikingly similar tales of the seldom-heard, dark side of mobility" (2).
As he conducted the interviews, Lubrano realized that the discussions often focused on the issue of class. Lubrano proposed that the "term class is tricky to define" (4). He concluded that people who discuss class are "referring to nothing less than a culture, with families as the purveyors of that culture. From the moment we're born, our families tell us how to be. You adopt the attitudes held by the people around you, and you learn your place in life" (4). Lubrano did not attempt an in-depth sociological discussion of the concept of class. Rather, he tried to understand the similarities in the lives of individuals who had moved from one class to another because of their education and occupation.
Lubrano organizes the materials in his book into eight chapters. Each of the chapters discusses a stage in the life of Straddlers. Chapters focus on growing up in working-class families, the difficulty of escaping those families to gain an education, the problems working-class students face in college, significant events in the lives of Straddlers when they are introduced to the middle and upper classes for the first time, changes in identity, issues in the workplace, the continuing relationship with families, the problems Straddlers face in marrying and starting families, and the ongoing nature of the struggle with identity. In each of the eight chapters of the book, he tells his own story and then similar stories of other Straddlers. Many of the stories are moving and emotional..
Straddlers often face difficult decisions in leaving the comfort of their neighborhoods to enter the foreign worlds of college and their chosen profession. Some have to openly defy parents who deny them the opportunity to gain an education. Straddlers realize that they have to reject their past at some level in order to move into the middle class. However, they often do not feel as though they fit into the middle-class world; they often feel that they are imposters who will be discovered and sent back to their blue-collar roots where they belong. They often have a hard time functioning at work because the expectations of the working class and the middle class are very different. They have to learn a new set of rules for survival, and those new rules are often a rejection of those learned while they were growing up.
Many Straddlers choose to become academics. Lubrano's research findings agree with previous studies of working-class children who become professors, such as those by Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey, Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1996); and C. L. Barney [End Page 441] Dews and Carolyn Law, eds., This Fine Place So Far from Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class (Philadelphia: Temple...