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

pexels-photo-48566.jpegAt a recent coffee meet-up at a local café, a friend began talking with great animation about a book she had just purchased and was in the middle of reading that was giving her great insight into why the Tea Party thought the way it did. I wrote down the title and bought it on Kindle later that day. I read half the book before I went to bed…I couldn’t stop, it was so good. Here it is:

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild, published in 2016 by The New Press.

Hochschild is a sociology at the University of California Berkeley who undertook a five-year study into understanding the “deep story” of the world where the Tea Party emerged—the Louisiana bayou country. It’s a story of the divisions between rich and poor that exist in our country, underscored by the divisions between black, immigrant, and white, and the histories of the different regions in our country and their unique experiences of the history we have passed through as a nation.

While I was extremely interested in the book for the topic and content, I can’t help it, I also approached it as a qualitative researcher, reading to learn how the author would address the methodological issues of the study. Strangers in Their Own Land is an excellent book I think for helping students see how methodology can be explained in a way that makes sense to a wide swath of readers. In other words, methodology doesn’t have to be jargony and distancing—it can be conversational and sense making!! Thank you Dr. Hochschild for demonstrating this so well.

I was particularly intrigued with the way she handled being the outsider (a University of California professor) working with the insiders (long time Southerners dwelling in this neighborhood they love so strongly). She treats her “participants” with deep respect, acknowledging their shared humanity, despite the differences in perspectives. At the close of the book she describes the process she went through sharing the text with those whom she had interviewed, receiving their feedback, and making revisions.

While the opening chapter provides many methodological details, the formal methodological discussion is left to the end of the book (an increasingly popular way to address methodology in a book designed for a more popular audience). But in both locations—Hochschild pays careful attention to readability.

I look forward to being able to read and discuss this text in a class with doctoral students with methodological interests. I think this is a great exemplar for how to write a readable book based on a strong study making use of qualitative research.