Strangers In Their Own Land – a Book Review

I listened to the book Strangers In Their Own Land a couple of weeks before the Elections. And that was very appropriate reading for that time! The book description from Goodreads says:

In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Russell 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, Russell 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, Russell 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. Russell 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? 

The idea of this book resonates deeply with me. I am often faced with questions from outsiders, especially from people who live in other countries, how people in their right minds can support Trump? I always say that it’s not like these people are cruel and inhumane; it’s just the see different sides of Trump’s policy, and that there may be reasons why they find these policies appealing, and why they find government interventions bad; and it’s not like they are stupid. 

I really liked this book for the conversation’s calm tone, for the author’s willingness to listen and understand. You can’t change people’s mind stating that they are idiots; if you want to convince people to your views, or at least plant a seed of doubt, you should clearly understand where they are coming from and converse with them on their territory.

Once again, some of the people’s stories in this book reminded me of my grandparents’ generation point of view. They might seem to be on the opposite pole of the political spectrum, but I remember this pride of always providing for themselves, always doing their best at work, never being late. Interestingly, somehow they never considered any government assistance, like pensions, the housing they were “given”, things like free education as “assistance.” And probably rightly so, because all these things would never compensate for what the government effectively took away from them in the form of reduced pay, budget redistribution, etc. In any case, I was surprised to hear my grandfather (and to some extent, my mother) in these voices from the American South. 

2 thoughts on “Strangers In Their Own Land – a Book Review

  1. I also found it to be a good and insightful read… so two thumbs up. My only caution is that it is a topic that invites ideological ax grinding, even among careful researchers. Multiple sources are worth reading… though maybe not all at once. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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