In an accessible and droll style, best-selling author Joel Best shines a light on how we navigate these anxious, insecure social times. While most of us still strive for the American Dream—to graduate from college, own a home, work toward early retirement—recent generations have been told that the next generation will not be able to achieve these goals, that things are getting—or are on the verge of getting—worse. In American Nightmares, Best addresses the apprehension that we face every day as we are bombarded with threats that the social institutions we count on are imperiled. Our schools are failing to teach our kids. Healthcare may soon be harder to obtain. We can’t bank on our retirement plans. And our homes—still the largest chunk of most people’s net worth—may lose much of their value. Our very way of life is being threatened! Or is it? With a steady voice and keen focus, Best examines how a culture develops fears and fantasies and how these visions are created and recreated in every generation. By dismantling current ideas about the future, collective memory, and sociology’s marginalization in the public square, Best sheds light on how social problems—and our anxiety about them—are socially constructed.
List of Illustrations
PART ONE. CONTEMPORARY CONCERNS
1. Popular Hazards; or, How We Insist Similar Social Problems Are Different
2. American Nightmares; or, Why Sociologists Hate the American Dream
Written with David Schweingruber
PART TWO. CONSTRUCTING FUTURE PROBLEMS
3. Evaluating Predictions; or, How to Compare the Maya Calendar, Social Security, and Climate Change
4. Future Talk; or, How Slippery Slopes Shape Concern
PART THREE. LOOKING BACKWARD AND BEYOND SOCIOLOGY
5. Memories as Problems; or, How to Reconsider Confederate Flags and Other Symbols of the Past
Written with Lawrence T. Nichols
6. Economicization; or, Why Economists Get More Respect Than Sociologists
Afterword: The Future of American Nightmares
Joel Best is Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. He is the author of Damned Lies and Statistics, Flavor of the Month, Stat-Spotting, and Everyone’s a Winner and coauthor of The Student Loan Mess.