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Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and…

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (2016)

by Arlie Russell Hochschild

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2701742,050 (4.25)1 / 66
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    The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker (Chicago Studies in American Politics) by Katherine J. Cramer (arethusarose)
    arethusarose: Covers rural Wisconsin, with similar intent. The rural north haste some different issues, but many of the same reasons; this is another book showing party change; Wisconsin used to be a State with strong liberal tendencies, but neoliberal policies have made this change.… (more)

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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. ( )
  GennaC | May 9, 2017 |
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. ( )
  ffortsa | Apr 20, 2017 |
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. ( )
  Craig_Pratt | Apr 19, 2017 |
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. ( )
  etxgardener | Mar 29, 2017 |
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 process.es 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! ( )
  Dreesie | Mar 10, 2017 |
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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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Book description
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? [retrieved 11/7/16 from Amazon.com]
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