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Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the "Real" America, by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel, is a book that reminds me why I got into the social science game to begin with.
If I were still teaching sociology (and I miss teaching!), the next course I designed would be totally around Patchwork Nation.
The idea of Patchwork Nation came out of Chinni's and Gimpel's frustration with the Red State / Blue State media divide. They thought that there had to be a more nuanced and accurate framework to understand elections, politics, economics and culture. Using a variety of data sources, they came up with a framework that includes 12 types of communities (with the county as the unit of analysis):
Campus and Careers
Service Worker Centers
You can check out what community type you live in at the Patchwork Nation website. Where do you live? Does the description on the site (or in the book) of your county ring true to your experience?
Not surprisingly, I live in a "Campus and Careers" county , defined as "…cities and towns with young, educated populations; more secular and Democratic than other American communities". The representative community for Campus and Careers is Ann Arbor, MI.
The combination of the book and the website provides all the material necessary for a great class. I think that the authors are willing to make part of the data they used to construct their analysis available to other researchers (and students) to analyze.
Think about how much richer the Patchwork Nation framework would be if student researchers contributed new forms of analysis to the public educational commons.
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Interesting concepts if you can get over the seemingly constant political bias, anti-traditional and anti-religious innuendos.