About the book

How has Latino immigration transformed the South? In what ways is the presence of these newcomers complicating efforts to organize for workplace justice? Scratching Out a Living takes readers deep into Mississippi’s chicken processing plants and communities, where large numbers of Latin American migrants were recruited in the mid-1990s to labor alongside an established African American workforce in some of the most dangerous and lowest-paid jobs in the country. As America’s voracious appetite for chicken has grown, so has the industry’s reliance on immigrant workers, whose structural position makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Based on the author’s six years of collaboration with a local workers’ center, this book explores how Black, white, and new Latino Mississippians have lived and understood these transformations. Activist anthropologist Angela Stuesse argues that people’s racial identifications and relationships to the poultry industry prove vital to their interpretations of the changes they are experiencing. Illuminating connections between the area’s long history of racial inequality, the industry’s growth and drive to lower labor costs, immigrants’ contested place in contemporary social relations, and workers’ prospects for political mobilization, Scratching Out a Living paints a compelling ethnographic portrait of neoliberal globalization and calls for organizing strategies that bring diverse working communities together in mutual construction of a more just future.

Reviews of Scratching Out a Living

"Scratching Out a Living is a marvelous book, a tour de force that deftly blends interpretive ethnography, engaged scholarship, and critical race theory. It combines a fascinating and compelling ethnography of how Latino immigration to central Mississippi has transformed the racial order of that region with a complex, creative, and critical analysis of how neoliberal strategies of labor recruitment and labor control require contemporary antisubordination social movements to mobilize around the dynamics of difference as well as around solidarities of sameness."

—George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place

"This richly textured ethnography excavates the complex relations among Southern whites, African Americans, and Latino immigrants in Mississippi’s poultry industry and the surrounding community. Angela Stuesse vividly documents the history of the industry, its restructuring over recent decades, the abuses workers experience daily in the plants, and the labor-organizing efforts that she participated in and observed. This is an exemplary work of politically engaged scholarship that offers a wealth of insight into the thorny dynamics of race and immigration in the New South."

—Ruth Milkman, author of L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement

"This powerhouse ethnography of labor and race relations in the Deep South brings into focus the most pressing social issues of our time: unauthorized migration and the persistence of white supremacy and racism in the United States. Drawing on six years of activist anthropology in Mississippi’s poultry industry, Angela Stuesse skillfully debunks myths about labor shortages as a cause of migration and animosity between groups of low-wage workers, showing that sustained effort to understand larger structural inequalities by groups equally destabilized by global neoliberal labor formations can build solidarity and boost efforts for change."

—Alyshia Gálvez, Associate Professor and Director of the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at the City University of New York

"Angela Stuesse shows in vivid detail how immigrants are learning to live together, not always smoothly, under the trying conditions of poultry production, structural racism, and the criminalization of migration. Scratching Out a Living is a poignant example of social change and the need to move beyond hyperbolic political rhetoric to find solutions that benefit workers and their families while facilitating smooth integration into local communities."

—Leo R. Chavez, author of Covering Immigration: Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation

"This pathbreakingly nuanced and readable account of change in the U.S. South covers all the hot button topics, from immigrant arrival and reception to workplace harassment, housing issues, and race relations between Latinos, African Americans, and whites. Scratching Out a Living is the best case study out there in its richness and thoroughness – but it also transcends the entire case study model in its breadth, making a particular part of the world speak to larger issues. This important book will be celebrated by a broad range of audiences.”

—Steve Striffler, author of Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food

"Scratching Out a Living is a model of engaged scholarship. In this timely, beautifully-written, and deeply researched activism-based ethnography about the poultry industry in the American South, Stuesse demonstrates how workers are exploited and divided on the basis of racial and ethnic identities within the context of neoliberal globalization. Without underestimating the difficulties, her research reveals that the basis for inter-racial working class solidarity among African Americans and Latinos does indeed exist in the newest 'new' South."

—Judges' Comments, 2017 C.L.R. James Award for Published Books for Academic or General Audiences, Working-Class Studies Association

Additional reviews in academic journals include: PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review (2018); Journal of Southern History 84(1)230-232 (2018); American Quarterly 69(2):421-433 (2017); Anthropology of Work Review 38(2):113-116 (2017) and Anthropology of Work Review 38(2):117-118 (2017)

Teaching guide

We have created a Teaching Guide to provide instructors and community groups using Scratching Out a Living with resources to aid them in their teaching and reading of the book. In addition to questions meant to stimulate synthesis, analysis, and reflection, the guide contains a list of complementary resources—films, art, and interactive websites—and ideas for action. Free download here!