Since it was published in 2016, Arlie Russell Hochschild
's Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
(The New Press, 2016) has been many times heralded as necessary reading for our current political moment. For her perceptive and dramatic account of a Berkeley sociologist's exploration of Tea Party enthusiasm in coastal Louisiana, Dr. Hochschild received honors and awards from many directions, including a spot as a finalist for the national book award. Now released in paperback in January 2018, Dr. Hochschild's book includes a new afterword, and continues to stand as both a moving narrative portrait of a political community and a strong example of scholarly work at the crossroads of academic research and public discourse.
Using environmental policy as her keyhole issue, Dr. Hochschild articulates the logic that structures a "great paradox": states which receive the highest levels of financial support from the federal government are also home to the deepest wells of resentment against government intervention in private life. Dr. Hochschild's work discloses an emotional "deep story" that shapes the political imagination of her Tea Party interlocutors, the feeling that deserving Americans are pushed to the back of the line for the American Dream.
Tracing the open rhetoric and the social silences that reveal the shape of a community's political imagination, Dr. Hochschild's research speaks to the roles of race and religion in forming the foundation of American politics. Her interviewees were mostly white, and mostly Christian. In exploring the ways in which the Tea Party deep story manifests a resentment against government work to curb irresponsible private power and provide public support for disadvantaged Americans, Strangers in Their Own Land
chronicles Dr. Hochschild's attempts to climb the "empathy walls" that surround and isolate communities sharply defined by ideological allegiance and disavowed histories of misused power.
Along the way, Strangers in Their Own Land
recounts the intellectual, political, and economic history that lies behind the great paradox of our current political crisis, and profiles figures who may offer us a way out of the bind.
For this interview, I asked Dr. Hochschild to speak to the process of writing a book for multiple audiences in a partisan climate. When researching and writing this book in the years leading up to the 2016 election, who did she imagine as her readers and what did she hope they would take away from her project? Our conversation covers the place of this book in the trajectory of her career, the difficulty of turning off the ethical "alarm system" while conducting interviews, structuring an academic book to capture the drama of a research question, and the principles that Dr. Hochschild believes activists can use to build momentum in the coming months.
Carl Nellis is an academic editor and writing instructor who researches contemporary American community formation around appropriations of medieval European culture. You can learn more about Carl's work and request an editorial consultation at carlnellis.wordpress.com.