Strangers in their own land : anger and mourning on the American right

by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Hardcover, 2016




New York : New Press, The, 2016.


"In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country--a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets--among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident--people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children. Strangers in Their Own Land goes beyond the commonplace liberal idea that these are people who have been duped into voting against their own interests. Instead, Hochschild finds lives ripped apart by stagnant wages, a loss of home, an elusive American dream--and political choices and views that make sense in the context of their lives. Hochschild draws on her expert knowledge of the sociology of emotion to help us understand what it feels like to live in "red" America. Along the way she finds answers to one of the crucial questions of contemporary American politics: why do the people who would seem to benefit most from "liberal" government intervention abhor the very idea?"--… (more)

Media reviews

Hochschild made 10 trips to southwestern Louisiana from 2011 to 2016, extended forays away from her perch at the University of California at Berkeley, to delve into her “keen interest in how life feels to people on the right — that is, in the emotion that underlies politics. To understand their emotions,”
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LibraryThing member rivkat
I got this from the library just before the election, then couldn’t bear to read it for a while, then couldn’t bear to review it for a while. Shortest version: the Louisiana Tea Party types Hochschild sensitively portrays are sick of being told that they’re bad people if they don’t care about people who don’t look and act like them; they won’t be emotionally blackmailed into doing so. They perceive reporting that focuses on other people’s problems to be implicit demands for their care as well as implicit claims that those problems are her informants’ fault for their inaction. Also, they believe that government always makes things worse, so it’s better to suck up bad things that happen, especially if the bad things might be connected to economic development. If it’s jobs versus wetlands, sorry, wetlands. Hochschild has–and makes a plea for—empathy for these personally very nice (I’m sure) people but I’m not sure why I, a non-anthropologist, should have the same empathy when a core part of their identity is refusing exactly that to me.

Her interviewees like lots of stuff the federal government does for them (hurricane relief, highway funding, unemployment insurance, the FDA), but they’re sure that lots of other people are getting stuff they don’t deserve (Medicaid). They don’t blame people they know for taking advantage of such programs as long as they’re there, but they want to be recognized as “above” taking advantage of government—it was a source of pride and status for them to not notice how they benefited from federal programs. They are careful to talk very little about African-Americans, not so much about fear of Muslims, but fundamentally and wrongly they believed that “the federal government was taking money from the workers and giving it to the idle.”

Her informants saw people (blacks, women, immigrants, public sector workers) cutting in line in front of them, when they’d followed the rules all their lives. If Obama rose so high fairly, “what kind of slouch does his rise make you feel like, you who are supposed to be so much more privileged?” But maybe he didn’t get there fairly! How could he? “But it’s people like you who have made this country great. You feel uneasy. It has to be said: the line cutters irritate you. They are violating rules of fairness. You resent them, and you feel it’s right that you do so…. You’re a compassionate person. But now you’ve been asked to extend your sympathy to all the people who have cut in front of you. So you have your guard up against requests for sympathy.” Plus, if there are so many line-cutters, you have been betrayed by someone helping them cut in line—Obama and his ilk. So those standing in line are paying for the line-cutters, and they’re tired of it.

Older white men disliked the word “victim” as overused by the undeserving, but they felt—though they couldn’t say—that they were victims now. They’d lost out on wages, on the American dream, and in honor because they were “the one group everyone thought stood unfairly ahead of the line”—in fact, the entire North had line-jumped the South (even as, she points out, federal dollars have been sucked out of the North for the benefit of the South). To resolve this conflict, white men tried to find honor in other ways—but work was becoming less secure. Regional/state pride might work, but most of her informants readily acknowledged that others looked down on them. Strong family values? Those were hard to uphold when people kept insisting on being gay and getting divorces. Church? Again, literal biblicalism led to being looked down on. Still, they needed pride—and they could find that by identifying “up,” with the one percent. That made them “optimistic, hopeful, a trier.” Trump’s focus on emotion was the perfect pitch for them, promising pride instead of shame. Trump provided the unity of the crowd—an “antidepressant” and “an ecstatic high”—for these supporters. Reviling outgroups helped that internal unity. He rejected not just “political correctness” but “a set of feeling rules—that is, a set of ideas about the right way to feel regarding blacks, women, immigrants, gays.” And if that’s the case, I don’t know what to do. “People think we’re not good people if we don’t feel sorry for blacks and immigrants and Syrian refugees,” one man told her. “But I am a good person and I don’t feel sorry for them.” “In the realm of emotions, the right felt like they were being treated as the criminals, and the liberals had the guns.” Trump offered joyous freedom from such constraint.

As for race, the older right-wing whites she met knew of blacks not as neighbors and colleagues but (1) successful entertainers, showing that racism was not a problem; (2) criminals shown in rap and on the news; and (3) welfare recipients, despite the fact that most such recipients are white. Gender was also a big issue in her informants’ “disorientation, fear, and resentment.” The women she talked to worked, but “their political feelings seemed based on their roles as wives and moters—and they wanted to be wives to high-earning men and to enjoy the luxury, as one woman put it, of being a homemaker.” (This finding is nothing new—Kristen Luker examined similar views among anti-abortion women.)

Hochschild is particularly interested in environmental issues, because Louisiana is so polluted and many of her informants remembered beautiful, now-destroyed natural settings. Rather than seeing cause to act, though, most (not all) focused instead on the need for “moral strength to endure.” Endurance, sacrifice, risk-taking rather than risk-mitigation—these were the key values, and that also meant that there needed to be bad things to be endured and risked. They couldn’t let themselves feel too bad about pollution, because there was nothing to be done/it must be God’s will. They resented the “hundreds of millions of dollars in hard-earned taxes for these bureaucrats at the Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA to do their job and they do nothing of the sort.” (Even though the Louisiana DEQ was responsible for allowing the worst environmental degradation precisely because of the Tea Party anti-regulation approach of Bobby Jindal.) “[M]any I interviewed estimated that a third to a half of all U.S. workers were employed by the federal government—a common estimate was 40 percent.” How do you deal with that kind of ignorance? I have to say, one of the biggest shocks was reading that her informants didn’t think that paying their taxes was particularly moral, because they no longer believed in the system that their taxes paid for.

Hochschild in the end appeals to her liberal readers to understand conservatives’ deep story of line-standing, and to conservatives to understand the liberals’ own deep story. In that one, people collectively built a public square that affords valuable resources that individuals on their own couldn’t and didn’t make, and that turns outsiders into insiders. But marauders are trying to take the public square apart and steal its components for their own private benefit. Can we really talk across these divides? I ended up not sanguine.
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LibraryThing member barlow304
Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild attempts to scale the “empathy wall” that separates left from right in this fascinating study of the Louisiana Tea Party and its adherents. Her version of the Great Paradox is that Louisiana is the second most polluted state in the Union, yet many of its older, white, Christian citizens despise the federal government and the EPA. Hochschild resolves this conflict by uncovering the “deep story” of emotions and ideas that make these citizens work against their economic self-interest.

Ultimately she decides that too many on the left ignore the emotional self-interest of those on the right, people who feel they’ve waited patiently in line for their share of the American Dream only to see others cut in front of them. Denied legitimacy and respect in the mainstream media, they find strength in endurance, independence, and their faith, values they believe the left does not share. Hochschild illuminates this view through her exploration of one issue—industrial pollution.

Timely and well-told, this book should be mandatory reading for everyone who fancies himself or herself a liberal.
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LibraryThing member pamelad
Hochschild is a sociologist, an academic at Berkeley, and a liberal to the core. Alarmed at the increasing hostility between Democrats and Republicans, she immerses herself in a community of Tea Party supporters in Louisiana to try to understand the emotion that underlies their political beliefs, to identify what she calls their "deep story". In order to discover this deep story, Hochschild has to scale "empathy walls", which prevent people from understanding one another and "can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs of whose childhood is rooted in different circumstances." She spend five years visiting and talking to her subjects, who welcome her into their lives and offer honesty and friendship. Even though their political beliefs seem insane to me, they come across as kind, sincere people.

The contempt that the recent presidential campaign has unleashed is shocking, so Hochschild's attempt to understand the beliefs of this particular group of Trump voters is a step in the direction of civility and cooperation. It is an imperfect book: I found the focus on the environmental problems of Louisiana, which is the issue that the author used as a basis for discerning people's values, to be depressing (if you lived in the US I think these disasters would be almost too tragic to read about); at times I almost drowned in the sea of metaphor, but I kept swimming and made it to shore. In the end Hochschild did identify the "deep story". She shared it with her subjects and they recognised themselves.

Definitely worth reading.
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LibraryThing member nyiper
Absolutely fascinating---wonderful to have these in-depth pictures of what was happening in the minds of a certain segment of voters who are very hard for liberals to understand---this helps!
LibraryThing member muddyboy
This is a fascinating account about the roots of the Tea Party and Trumpism and the rage that inspires it. The central thesis is that these people resent what they see as people cutting ahead of them in line getting to the American dream. To them the federal government spends a whole lot of time worrying about Blacks. immigrants, gays, women etc. helping them to rise while ignoring them. The book centers in Louisiana which seems to exemplify a contradiction. The state gets 40% of its income through the government aid but they still hate the Feds.… (more)
LibraryThing member annbury
A fine book; the author is a well known sociologist at UC Berkley and she has gone to deepest Louisiana to find out why the right wing thinks as they do. They are by no means the ignorant people that I thought they were but they are very different from east coasters. This is a nice read for me, who desires to know why the right wing so often shoots itself in
the foot;. Her explanation is that they don't really do this, but they are not too bright even if many of them have been to college, because the answers are available to anyone with a bit of curiosity. I have been to this state fairly often in the past ten years, and I have seen all of the plants on the highway. Who knew that it was polluted beyond belief?
If we have to treat some of these people differently, I hope that they do not get much money, because we are
already broke.
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LibraryThing member ffortsa
I finally finished this treatise on the sociology of the Louisiana bayou area. The reader is quite good, so I didn't mind the length, but it was rather repetitious, especially at the beginning and again at the end.

Hochschild set out to learn about the group of people in the Louisiana bayou who were most affected by both the oil, gas and chemical manufacturing industry and the resulting pollution in a very fragile ecosystem. Why were they so staunchly anti-government? Could she see the world from their perspective? What she found, over many years of research and personal contact, was that below the tension of economics and ecology, these people were raised with what she calls a 'deep story' of what constitutes honor and independence, and that deep story, often supported by fundamentalist religious beliefs, stands in the way of appreciation of what they would term 'big government' seeking to protect the bayou and all the surrounding ecology. In addition, their self-definition of independence and endurance prevents them from most local campaigns to save their surroundings, and encourages them to associate with the most right-wing elements of the political spectrum, in spite of the damage their representatives, including and especially Bobby Jindal, have done to the economy and resources of their state.

I came away from this feeling that their deep story (and we all have a deep story, just not this one) is a huge barrier toward understanding other people's viewpoints. Hochschild did a remarkable and patient job of trying to get into the skin of these people, and clearly appreciates them, their generosity and hospitality, and by the end of the book, their point of view. But she offers no consistent way in to any sort of compromise with them, as they turn their backs on any remedies others may have for their situation. It's very sad.
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LibraryThing member nmele
Hochschild's book explores the socio-political polarization of America through her relationships and interviewers with residents of a Louisiana parish. She is fair-minded, voicing their fears and resentments but also their tortured relationship with the fossil fuel industry. This book complements Jane Mayer's "Dark Money" in that Hochschild documents the pressures and influences that lead so many America's into the Tea Party. A fascinating, excellent book!… (more)
LibraryThing member Dreesie
Hochschild travels to southwest Louisiana to meet and talk with a variety of Tea Party supporters, over some time. She went with a legitimate introduction, and people were very nice to her.

But I still simply do not get their thought Hochschild cannot truly explain or present their point of view, because it is so contradictory. She tries. She includes an excellent appendix that looks at some of their statistical understandings (my favorite: that 40% of people work for federal/state governments, which is why govt is so horrible and needs so much tax money--these people are takers! But added up: all fed employees, state employees, local employees (including local school districts), military, military reserves--the total is less than 17%. If it's just federal and state (civilian and military)--it's about 6%. Where do they get numbers like 40?!

These folks are strongly anti-govt. They do not like those who receive govt assistance, though they know people who have received disability payments for year or decades (but he deserves it! he was badly injured at work!), or they themselves have received food stamps (one woman was raised on them--but her mother deserved them!). So they do not mind govt assistance for themselves ("it would be stupid to not accept it") but think others who take it are living off taxpayers. I have heard this expressed by relatives IRL, and I don't get it.

These folks are strongly anti-regulation. As they watch their beloved swampy forests die around them do to chemical contamination by oil companies. The govt told them they should not be eating the fish because of mercury and other contamination—and they get angry at the govt for "overreaching", not at the companies for contaminating. One of her subjects is a Tea Party environmentalist—but he only became interested in the environment when he became an industrial accident refugee, as his home and town were destroyed by a giant contaminated sinkhole.

These people are generally Evangelical Christians or Catholics. They think they are "outnumbered" and somehow unique in their religion. I live in Los Angeles and I am surrounded by Evangelicals and some pretty strict Catholics. They say "the liberals" and "the city people" and "the coastal people" look down on them for their cultural heritage of religion. But they could move into a big city and find that community quickly.

Hochschild comes up with an analogy that her subjects/friends agree with: they see themselves in a long line working toward the American Dream. But people keep cutting in front of them. In the 60s the blacks cut in. In the 70s women cut in. Then Mexicans. Now Syrian refugees. They aren't getting closer to the American dream because the feds keep letting others cut in line. They see the American Dream as being a reward for a life of hard and honest work. But who gives that reward? They blame the feds and all these "cheaters" for they themselves NOT getting it, but who gives it? And what is it? These people own land (even acreage), a home, SUVs, they have good jobs or have retired from them, many have gone to college or sent their kids to college, they have hobbies and churches and communities and family close by. Many have traveled out of the country, or travel in the country, for vacations or fun trips. It sounds to me like they already have achieved the American Dream!! What else do they want? And who owes them this entitlement, whatever it is? I wish Hochschild had addressed this. All I can see is greed and jealousy of "the other", but not what this mystery reward is and why they think everyone else is getting it but them.

A very frustrating read!
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
Arlie Russell Hochschild is a sociologist at the University of California-Berkeley who has studied topics ranging from the commercialization of emotions to the challenges faced by working women. Curious about the rise of the Tea Party movement, she leaves California and travels to Louisiana to get on the other side of the empathy wall and learn about the people whose beliefs are much different than her own. Through interviews and observations, she gradually learns the "deep story" that members of the American right hold. Hochschild sheds light on how those who might be helped most by government programs to protect the environment are vehemently opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency. Hochschild's field work begin several years ago, but at the end of the book, she also tries to understand the forces that may have led to the popularity of Donald Trump. Given the current political climate, I found this to be an interesting read that helped me begin to understand viewpoints much different from my own.… (more)
LibraryThing member arosoff
I had some trepidation about this book because of so many bad articles purporting to explore our political divide, especially in the Trump era. Hochschild's book is significantly better than most of these efforts. She focuses on a single area (south Louisiana, especially the Lake Charles area) and particularly on the petrochemical injury and its disastrous effects on the environment. The book succeeds because while her bias is clear--she thinks the right wing is factually wrong, and brings evidence to show how their policies have failed Louisiana and its people--she is not condescending towards the people she's studying. Their feelings are real, and they're complex individuals.

The conclusions she draws aren't earth shattering--people believe in these ideas in part because of life experience (government has not shown itself to be effective, especially when it comes to environmental regulation--if they'll stop you from fishing, but not stop companies from dumping in the bayou, what good are the regulations?) and in part because of their values and world view. She does a nice job of letting people tell their stories and explain themselves, and puts it into a good politician and historical context in a relatively short space.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
Ever since the election, I've felt disconnected from a large part of the US. Yes, I know that I live in a Progressive bubble in Silicon Valley, but last fall I would have bet money that Donald Trump was unelectable. I have been searching for books that will help me understand why a large portion (but NOT a majority) or Americans voted for this man? Was it the economy? A desire to be like him? Arlie Hochschild spent years living in Louisiana in an effort to 'cross the empathy wall' and understand the popularity of the Republican agenda. The stories she retells are fascinating and yes - it does give you insight on why we have a divided country. Really fascinating research and definitely a good book to discuss.… (more)
LibraryThing member R3dH00d
Interesting insights, if not a bit redundant.
LibraryThing member kemilyh1988
I wish the bulk of this book hadn't been about the environment and pollution. While yes, you would think that those living in heavily polluted areas such as Louisiana would want more environmental protection and the fact that they don't is fascinating,that is not the only baffling part about the über conservative south. I was disappointed that more right leaning issues weren't more developed. The line analogy was on point, however and makes a lot of sense. I think this book could have either been 100 pages loner or half of the environmental stuff could have been taken out with religion added in. It was a bit difficult for me to not scream ignorance while reading this, I will admit.… (more)
LibraryThing member JRCornell
In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown deep into Louisiana bayou country--a stronghold of the conservative right. SOFT
LibraryThing member ThomasPluck
a must read for understanding the political divide
LibraryThing member Craig_Pratt7052
This book contributes an important perspective to the questions of political, spiritual and social class polarization in current US. The author's ability to become familiar with and trusted by interview subjects remarkable and key to the value that I derived from reading the book. I am unable to assess the validity of the sociological method she used. For the time being, I know of no similar work that can provide as much of an explanation for the influences that were at work in the 2016 Presidential election.… (more)
LibraryThing member GennaC
In Strangers in Their Own Land, Hochschild sets out to demystify the Tea Party, which comprises at least half of Louisiana's population, while tackling the empathy wall and the issue of "partyism", which plagues many Americans. The title suggests a broad scope, but the emphasis of Hochschild's study is relatively narrow. The focal issue here is environmental pollution with an emphasis on the paradox of "great pollution and great resistance to regulating polluters". Specifically, the dichotomy of those most impacted by environmental pollution being least concerned about its risks. Here I am trying to understand why people living in states suffering the most from industrial pollution, poor health, and the highest incidence of cancer gravitate towards representatives looking to abolish the EPA, curb the Clean Air Act, cut federal support, etc. While Hochschild has chosen environmental concerns as her "keyhole issue", she does offer cursory coverage of social issues as she addresses the emotional draw of right-wing politics.

Much of this book is frustrating and uncomfortable to confront. A majority of the people Hochschild interviews would (or do) benefit from federal assistance. Yet their bitterness, their pride, their feelings of betrayal, and sometimes their prejudices keep them from doing so or create great shame over their need of such assistance. The great paradox, again, as she refers to it. Religion, of course, plays a commanding role, with concerns over Christian morality trumping a "nostalgia" for a once healthy environment. Strangers in Their Own Land is not an easy read, but a useful one, I think, for those seeking to better understand those they fundamentally do not agree with. This book is relatively heavy on data and economic statistics, which bogged down my literary brain a bit, but provides a more complete survey.

Summarily, while I can't speak with any confidence on an implicit understanding of Tea Party supporters, this book did succeed in assuring my lack of interest in ever living in Louisiana. It is impossible for me to see eye-to-eye with people who shrug off the implications of racism simply because they don't understand that it's more than the use of the "N" word. Or seeing people who benefited from government programs and later finding great success in life as "cheaters". Or people who consider a component of the American Dream to be "clean, normal family life" (whatever that means). Hochschild's ultimate goal is empathy for those who are different from ourselves and a willingness to cross party lines in order to see value in others' stories. However, it's difficult to keep my empathy from shriveling up entirely when she interviewed people advocating for mandatory tubal ligation for impoverished women with more than one child in order to receive federal assistance. More importantly, though, despite what oft seem like insurmountable differences, I do still think it's worthwhile to try to cultivate common ground, as it's never as simple or straightforward as we think it is. Strangers in Their Own Land is a worthy starting point.
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LibraryThing member deblemrc
Good picture of people in the deep US south voting for the right. But even after reading this, I still do not understand why these people are voting against their own interests (but that non-understanding has nothing to do with the quality of the writer/book).
LibraryThing member etxgardener
Since the election, I have been reading books on "the forgotten white Americans" trying to understand how we can bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gap between liberals and conservatives, and it seems as though, while they are all very good at describing the problem, they are very short on how to fix it. This book is no exception

Hachschild, a sociologist from Berkeley, California embedded herself in southwestern Louisiana for over a year trying to learn what makes white members of the Tea Party tick. She certainly got a compendium of their likes and dislikes, but her explanation of why they think the way they do, seems to be facile, as is her rather "kumbaya" prescription of how we all just need to "get along."

The depressing thing that this book left me with is that maybe this country really is headed for another kind of civil war because I'm not sure how one accommodates a group of people who want to ignore science and turn back the social clock 100 years, all the while letting industry destroy the environment. And upon reflection, I don't want to.
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