Friday, March 31, 2017

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

What is it about?

The book documents a "anthropological" project by a U.S. sociologist, wherein she set out to find out the actual, "low-level" reasons for the increasing popularity of the right wing republican sentiments in the U.S.

In effect, it probably would not be a great exaggeration to say that the book provides a sociologically informed answer as to why Donald Trump became the president of the United States.

In particular, Hochschild wants to understand why people in the "red states" in the USA vote in favor of policies which, rationally speaking, are disadvantageous for them, such as discontinuing or scaling down governmental programs which are in their objective interests.

The answer Hochschild provides - and provides exceedingly credibly - is that rationality has very little to do with the voting behavior of these people. Instead, the question is about identity: these people feel that on the one hand they are increasingly losers in the global economy and on the other that what they represent (hard word, traditional family values, religiosity etc.) are frowned upon, and that they are being considered as backward and even rather stupid. This is their deep story, a very central concept in the book.

Moreover, if such people - heterosexual, church-going and family-oriented - would raise their voice about their dire straits, they would be considered as politically incorrect, rude and oppressive, as the "correct" minorities and sufferers are someone totally different (non-heterosexual, non-white ethnicities etc.).

Thus, these people want to be "spoken to", taken seriously, and their honor restored; no matter the economic consequences of the policy recognizing their identity-related needs.

Was it good?

The book is very good; the basic message is powerful in its explanatory power, and it is exceedingly credibly stated.

Admittedly, as the book heavily relies on a narrative strategy, for some readers the numerous case stories about the authors' discussion and encounters with various people may be a bit long-winded. For such readers, Chapter 9 ("The deep story") would be sufficient; the core of the basic message is presented here in about 20 pages.

The main take-away for me?

For me - and for anyone, basically - the main take-away must be the basic message of the book: that the raise of the right wing both in the USA and elsewhere in the Western word is to a large part due to identity-related issues - the deep story - and not about objectively and rationally evaluated policies.

Who should read the book?

I think that everyone wondering about the ascend of Donald Trump or the right wing (e.g., the tea party movement) in the USA or similar developments elsewhere should read the book. It is quite likely that the book assigns meaning to these phenomena.

The book on Strangers in Their Own Land

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