This review of Jeff Ferrell’s Drift was published in The Quietus.
Jeff Ferrell’s Drift, a stylish study of the idea and realities of vagrancy, takes the form of a sandwich. Opening and closing with extended meditations on the theoretical, aesthetic, political and practical significance of the concept of “drift”, its middle section offers a record of Ferrell’s personal experiences train-hopping across the Texan desert. This multifocal perspective lends a compelling sense of atmosphere to a work which insists on its subject matter’s resistance to conventional sociological research. The result is a readable and timely fusion of academic study and social reportage.
The desire to produce sociological accounts of those who wish, or are forced, to stand outside of mainstream society is not a new one, and among Ferrell’s many progenitors, Jack London stands out as one prominent figure. Author of 1903’s work of incognito social investigation The People of the Abyss, itself a key source for George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, the prolific London was born in San Francisco and wrote a series of works whose texture is that of the American road. Key for Ferrell is London’s self-fashioning: however much his experiences of displacement and drift may have been the product of his historical context, London always conceived of himself as a drifter first and foremost. As Ferrell quotes approvingly from 1907’s The Road: “I became a tramp – well, because of the life that was in me, and of the wanderlust in my blood that would not let me rest.” This is a self-fashioning that renounces its status as such – not so much a jacket one wears, as the skin one is in.
London’s claim at authenticity clearly resonates with Ferrell, who approaches his subject as a vocation. Drift is stocked with profuse reference to his earlier works on related themes, and although the bracketed, mid-sentence citations sometimes make for a frustrating read, threatening to break the flow of his otherwise lucid analysis “(see Ferrell 1996, 2006, 2013; Ferrell, Hayward, and Young 2015, 213–14; Ferrell and Weide 2010)”, they also testify to the long gestation of Drift as the product of a career spent thinking critically about sociological and criminological study. Ferrell’s intricate and stimulating discussions of “drift dialectics”, “contexts”, “politics” and “method” are clearly the products of extended and idiosyncratic thought on this subject….to continue reading this article, click here.