Interview with Lisa Dodson, author of “The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy”

Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective. As I told ‘The Tennessean’ in 2008, “since moving to Nashville twenty-five years ago, I have met people whose lives do not remotely reflect the caricature of what many outside our city presume to be a ‘Nashvillian’ or the Nashville experience.” “Underground Nashville” thus explores the soul of the city, not its surface—offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew


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Interview with Lisa Dodson, author of The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy

By Dave Carew

Lisa Dodson is professor of sociology at Boston College.  Her new book, The Moral Underground, focuses on ways in which ordinary citizens try to right wrongs they believe are being perpetrated on their fellow human beings by what Ms. Dodson calls “an unfair economy.” After seeing Ms. Dodson’s book advertised in The Nation, Underground Nashville requested an interview with her, which she graciously granted. Here’s how our conversation went:

UNDERGROUND NASHVILLE:  The topic of your book is very distinctive and inspired. What was the “spark” that compelled you to write this book?

LISA DODSON: All my work deals with economic inequality and what that does to people, families, and society. I was going about doing my kind of research… asking regular people about their lives and what they think is going on in terms of the nation’s economy. I try to ask different kinds of people to get an array of perspectives . . . . I expected to get certain kinds of responses, and did; but I also got unexpected ones, too.

This is a society in which many people hold fairness as a value. But over the last 30 years, the disparity of wealth and the erosion of the working and middle classes have permeated everything. Deep inequality is part of everyday life; it infuses all our major institutions.

One finding was that a lot of people really hate unfairness, but, beyond that, say it really undermines their jobs and lives. [So] some will go out of their way and even break rules to try to take the side of people who are working hard but are being hurt by an unfair economy. That was the rock that I turned over unexpectedly and then continued to dig at.

UN:  If you had just 30 seconds to tell someone about your book and how they would benefit from reading it, what would you say?

LD: This book is the people’s take on the economy… not the bankers’ or policy makers’ or politicians’. It goes beyond Wall Street and Main Street. The book invites people from all corners of American life to take a chair at the “head table” and speak up about what they know is happening, how it affects them, and what they would like to see happen. What I hadn’t anticipated is that some of them are already doing it—underground. It’s a wonderful spirit of the American character that Tea Party backers like to push aside. But it’s still there.

UN:  If your book could persuade the U.S. Congress to enact just one piece of legislation, what would you hope it would be?

LD: If I had to pick just one it would be that everyone who is doing the jobs of this nation should make a sustainable income so they can care for their own—not just a wage that works for bottom lines, but a livelihood. It would transform the society in ways that we could not imagine now.

David M. (Dave) Carew is editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter.” He also is a freelance book editor, publicist, and copywriter.

For more information about The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy, visit


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