Judy Cornett

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Alabama Law Review


In his controversial memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance implicitly asserts a connection between the individual and his or her culture. Vance’s work rests on a number of premises. An individual is a product of a particular culture, and that culture defines the choices available to that individual. Therefore, understanding a person requires an understanding of the culture from which that person comes. Conversely, by looking at individuals within a given culture, we can define the culture and generalize its characteristics to other individuals within that culture. Although several commentators have pushed back against the latter proposition by pointing out that not all denizens of Appalachia underwent the same experiences as Vance, few commentators have challenged the former proposition: that we can understand an individual better by understanding the culture from which he or she comes.

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