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?
Cover image © Richard Misrach, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles
©2016 Arlie Russell Hochschild (P)2016 Audible, Inc.
listens to NPR in her Volvo
After Trump won, I decided I needed to read more about the white America that I never talk to. I started with this book because it was recommended by the Director of the National Book Foundation, but immediately ran into a serious flaw in that recommendation: it's written by a UCBerkeley professor. She talks about the empathy wall, but here I am trying to reach across that divide and doing it by means of somebody well entrenched on my side.
The biggest problem I had with this as an audible experience is that the reader has a seriously pretentious accent. What is that? It's not any accent I've encountered in real life. It's some performance projection, but undermines the content. One of the conclusions the author reached in her study of right wing Southern Republicans is that their feelings are hurt by what they perceive to be the disdain the left has for their lifestyle, priorities, and voting. I think the author makes an effort to balance her disagreement and to express her gratitude for their hospitality and willingness to talk to her, the tone of the reader in this audio version is so bizarre that it reinforces the sense that the liberal elite fancies itself superior to "real" America.
I was so disappointed with this book. I am a little to the right of center but more left leaning on some issues, the environment being one. But the whole first half of this book is basically a diatribe against big business pollution in the guise of "trying to scale the wall of empathy." Even when she finally got to what she thought the real issue was, she framed the rest of the book in that overly simplified analogy and never bothered to explore any further.
The narrator had an arrogant, sarcastic tone whenever she read quotes from tea partyers, which just added to the complete lack of empathy the book ended up portraying. I am very interested in this subject, but it would be lovely if someone with more genuine motives would write a book on it.
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Potential if bias can be removed
Ms. Hochschild had a chance to bridge a divide but she blew it. First my bona fides. I am a 55yo physician born and raised in Georgia, living in South Carolina and at this moment on my way to visit dear friends and family in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. I'm a first doctor in my family and love caring for patients, and do so without regard to race, creed, religion, sexual orientation or the ability to pay. I do however despise Obamacare and what it has done to my profession, but I digress. I am that demographic the author came to "study."
Ms. Hochschild would start off well enough, describing a character and area of Louisiana accurately, but out of nowhere would launch into a diatribe about the oil industry. the Koch Brothers and Fox News (said repeatedly with emphasis and disdain) but no mention of government bureaucratic overreach or George Soros or any of, in our view, legitimate concerns we have. I could tell in the first two chapters that this was not an objective scientific sociology study of a demographic but an affirmation of the presumed moral superiority of the author's liberal followers.
What is worse is the horrendous narration of the audiobook. While I'm sure that Suzanne Toren is a fine and decent lady her voice has a superior "look-down-your-nose" tone to a Southerner's ear. Her faux accent did not even remotely come close to Cadiens-du-meche or River-Roads Cajun accents. The effect is to portray those folks as the lesser informed or educated, intended or not.
I applaud the author for at least starting out with the intention of looking at a culture so different from her own in order to improve the understanding of that culture by those that think as she does, but ultimately she fails, succumbing to the very bias that has helped lead to this divide in our nation. It is for this reason I find the book enlightening. How can urban dwellers that claim superior education and tolerance have such a hard time understanding us, accepting us, talking to us without labeling us as backward rubes, racists, misogynists and xenophobes? In my opinion that is the definition of xenophobia itself. Thank God for the 12th Amendment.
This book was described in that I did not think I would hear the deep-liberal overtones, inflections and sarcasm of the mostly conservative residents of the deep south. But, it's all over the book. I skipped around after an hour or so; I was really hoping for an unbiased analysis. Not to be. Maybe it was the way the narrator read it, but I believe this author's background could never allow her to present a fair, indiscriminate view of the land and people where I grew up.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Hochschild is a University of California Berkeley sociologist. She states she was attempting to understand the Great Paradox: the fact that people in the poorest states who most need federal programs consistently vote for candidates who oppose those programs. The author traveled to Louisiana one of the poorest states and the one hardest hit by environmental pollution.
The people see their homes fall into sink holes caused by toxic waste, see deformities in wildlife and cancer in people including children caused by industrial pollution. They support deregulation of industry and cuts in federal aid. Hochschild says they tell her pollution is the sacrifice they have to make for capitalism. They apparently have a great mistrust of the federal government even more so than state government.
One comment the author made stuck with me. “She quickly realized that many of the stated views held by the tea party members were often not fact based but rather grounded in what life FEELS like to them.”
I gained some information and understanding from this book. I was amazed at the destruction of Louisiana by industrial pollution. I learned enough to know we have some big problems in this country that have created this situation and will tolerate the massive dangerous pollution. Louisiana is such a beautiful area; it makes me sick to learn about all the pollution. I liked the fact checking section at the end of the book; I found that most helpful. I also did a random check of the fact-checking and found the ones I looked up to be correct.
Suzanna Toren did a good job narrating the book. Toren is an award-winning audiobook narrator.
I have been bewildered and disheartened by the abyss that has developed in American politics. I went looking for someone who could help me make sense of it. I couldn't have found a more powerfully successful venture than this. Openly progressive Berkeley professor travels to Louisiana bayou country to find out how and why......and provided powerful, perspective-enhancing insights.....A great book, very well read.
I liked, loved everything. It was written like fiction but was a fact filled journey into the hearts and minds of real Americans. It should be required reading for every registered democrat and Sanders supporter.
The content is thought provoking, but the narration is difficult to stick with. I listen for about an hour at a time--that's all I can take. The tone of the narrator is condescending...I imagine her saying: "...and then we observed the elusive male redneck in his natural environment... I still think her take is useful to listen to... as I find trying to keep an open mind challenging
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