Christine J. Walley
Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013
Address for correspondence: Jagiellonian University,
ul. Grodzka 52/52, 31-044 Krakow, Poland.
The highway exit ramp for Southeast Chicago is numbered “zero.” This fact inspired Christine J. Walley to title her analysis of southeastern neighborhoods this way. Obviously, we can suspect that “zero” has a figurative meaning as well, because the book not only depicts working-class neighborhoods in Chicago but also discusses salient issues related to deindustrialization and its consequences. Zero denotes the emptiness that one could observe in the 2000s in the former steel mill region of Southeast Chicago. Analogically, it is possible to read Walley’s book in two different ways. On the surface, the publication is little more than a personal story. Moreover, this story has only a few threads and nodes, which can be easily listed here. It tells stories of mill shutdowns in the region, stories of immigrants to this part of the United States, and stories of upward and downward mobility. All those stories are related to one central story: the life experiences of a bright working-class girl who managed to become a professor of anthropology. Obviously, it is not the first time an ethnographer has used her own biography to construct an anthropological narrative (see Taylor 2008), but this narrative is a very special and personal one, as we will see.