Cover image for Dancing at Armageddon : survivalism and chaos in modern times
Dancing at Armageddon : survivalism and chaos in modern times
Mitchell, Richard G.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
275 pages ; 24 cm
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HN90.R3 M55 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Winner of the Charles H. Cooley Award from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction.

Richard G. Mitchell Jr. spent more than a dozen years among survivalists at public conferences, private meetings, and clandestine training camps across America. He takes us inside a compelling, hidden world more connected to the chaos of modern life many of us experience than the label "separatist" suggests. In survivalism Mitchell found a profound and meaningful critique of contemporary industrial society, a subculture in which the real evil is not repressive government but the far more insidious influence of a "Planet Microsoft" mentality with its abundance of empty choices. Survivalists, Mitchell shows us, are seeking resistance, not struggling against it; they are looking for ways to define themselves and test their talents in a society that is becoming devitalized and formless.

Author Notes

Richard G. Mitchell Jr. is a professor of sociology at Oregon State University. He is the author of Mountain Experience: The Psychology and Sociology of Adventure and Secrecy and Fieldwork , and the coeditor of Exploring Society .

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The survivalist movement gets a partial makeover in this revisionist study of America's backwoods doomsayers. Sociologist Mitchell begins with a simple thesis: survivalists are not necessarily crazy or stupid. Rather, he writes, survivalism is a creative response to the stresses of modernity. Its adherents practice a kind of "radical skepticism" about our cultural and economic structures, which leads them to predict civilization's collapse (through race war, economic ruin, plague, nuclear holocaust, etc.). The more notorious proclivities of survivalists collecting guns, building bunkers and the like are merely sensible responses to these dire forecasts, which may have seemed far-fetched before September 11. Mitchell spent years among his subjects, even participating in some "guerrilla" training himself (a farcical weekend in the woods with men too chubby to march very long and too drowsy to fight very hard). Survivalists can live in nice suburbs; they can even make prudent investments like buying land to use as a tax shelter and, "when needed, a fallout shelter." In fact, says Mitchell, sometimes survivalist cadres resemble nothing so much as eccentric hobby groups. But there is also a darker side to the movement, chronicled by Mitchell's visits to Idaho's Aryan Nations compound and other militant survivalist centers around the country. In these places, survivalism is inextricably tied to resentment, racism and hate. The Aryan Nations material is well worn, but the rest of Mitchell's account is provocative and surprising. His book is an important attempt to clarify and contextualize a movement that thrives on mainstream society's fringes. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Mitchell (sociology, Oregon State Univ.) provides one of the first, and certainly one of the most readable, looks at the survivalist movement, summing up many years of experience as a participant-observer. While adherents are often caricatured as dispossessed, paranoid loners, Mitchell reveals them to be not only stereotypical Rambo wannabes but also businessmen, doctors, and other professionals who are looking for a little adventure in our increasingly antiseptic, detached culture. Mitchell explores various sociological and psychological theories about participation in the survivalist movement and discovers that it is about more than an outsider's need to get power. Rather, the movement allows people often marginalized by society to exercise their creativity and gain success: "survivalism is no practical readiness for uncertainties, but a celebration of imagination, an encompassing, compelling game of make-believe." This insightful study is highly recommended for both academic and public libraries.-Mark Bay, Cumberland Coll. Lib., Williamsburg, KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Mitchell's analysis of survivalism is a wonderfully crafted sociological analysis of a largely misunderstood social movement. More than a decade of field experience provides the data to describe and explain the author's observations, draw connections to sociological theory, and offer logical explanations for the origins and character of the movement. The primary explanatory framework is rooted in Weber's concepts of rationalization and the "iron cage." Mitchell views survivalism as a struggle against the forces of bureaucratic rationality that act to ease members of society into roles of passive consumers. Survivalism represents a search for meaningful creation in a society that strips the individual of personal worth. Documenting variations and competing ideologies within the movement, Mitchell convincingly argues that survivalism is anything but a highly organized movement with common purpose. In fact, survivalists are tremendously divided among themselves, systematically victimized by convention expo profiteers, and in search of resistance to justify their actions. The search for resistance can result in the conspiratorial tales and antigovernment rhetoric characteristic of the movement. Mitchell's interpretation runs counter to the dominant view that survivalists act to create resistance; rather, it is a search for resistance to rationalization. All levels and collections. E. J. Krieg Buffalo State College

Table of Contents

1 Prospects
2 The Craft of Valuation
3 The Craft of Function
4 The Craft of Persuasion
5 Survivalism and Rational Times
6 Retrospects