Study Guide for Strangers in Their Own Land

This is a study guide for Strangers in Their Own Land intended for sociology students. We hope this helps you with your course. Many thanks for your interest.

About the Research Method

Over a five-year stretch, Hochschild traveled Louisiana working on what sociologists and other social scientists call ethnography. For many, large-scale surveys come to mind when thinking about social science research, but ethnography embraces a distinct approach, one less focused on the big picture than on the messy details of social life. Ethnographers like Hochschild aren’t focused on gathering data on as many people as possible, as a surveyor typically is, but instead work on gathering as much data as possible about a circumscribed group of people. In this case, Hochschild focused on conservatives living in one of the nation’s most polluted counties in the South. While surveys are handy for learning how many people identify as Republicans or Democrats in a state or country, they aren’t well suited to all types of questions. To uncover how people understand what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat, a progressive or a Tea Partier, a researcher must get close enough to observe the minor emotions, encounters, and triumphs people experience every day—experiences which, over time, add up to a person’s political identity.

Different researchers conduct ethnography in different ways. For many, ethnography is nothing like being a fly on the wall. For researchers like Hochschild, ethnography involves building meaningful relationships with subjects. Trust, or what ethnographers often call rapport, is essential for gaining access to a person’s thoughts and feelings. Hochschild calls her approach participant-observation, which means she is trying to inhabit the world of her subjects. She does this not just by talking to them at home, but by “visiting places of birth, churches, and burial plots, sharing meals, driving places together, attending events, and more” (p. 249).

In each encounter, Hochschild told her informant who she was and why she was there. She explained that she was “worried about the divide in this country” and often people replied, “We are too.” In this way she was the opposite of the “stealth reporter.”

Hochschild guided her ethnographic work in several ways. When she first got to the state, she conducted four focus groups of middle-class white women, two with Tea Party supporters and two with Democrats. After meeting and talking with the groups, Hochschild interviewed the Tea Party women one-on-one and, in some classes, also spoke with their close confidants, such as husbands or parents. This method of recruiting new subjects is called snowball sampling, as it uses existing social ties to find more and more contacts, just as a snowball gains mass as it rolls down a hill.

In addition to the interviews, Hochschild followed two competing congressional candidates as they made their case for election. Going to campaign events across the state, Hochschild made a point of talking with those who showed up. In this way, she developed even more contacts. At one rally, she met an environmental activist, which led her to shift more attention to the topic of pollution, a subject that eventually became a central idea of her project. In order to follow this thread, Hochschild began attending public rallies concerning the environment, where she met some of the central figures of the book, including Mike Schaff and General Russel Honoré. In social science research, this approach is referred to as inductive, as the project is shaped by discoveries as they arise. In contrast, deductive research is when a social scientist conducts research to explicitly test a pre-determined idea.

In total, Hochschild spoke with sixty people, resulting in 4,690 pages of transcribed interviews. Forty of these interviews were with Tea Party supporters but, just as important, twenty were with people like academics, scientists, and lawmakers who helped Hochschild better frame her project. Consent is important to social scientists, and everyone who was interviewed was asked to sign forms before Hochschild began recording their conversations. As part of the consent process, the subjects were told that she would turn off the tape recorder should there be something a person wanted to say but didn’t want reported in the book.

The project’s argument is built on the wealth of material Hochschild gathered, but much of the book’s narrative is centered on six individuals who are representative of Hochschild’s findings. With these six people, Hochschild dove into a participant-observation study. In addition to providing rich evidence, this close-up on the lives of a small group of people allows a narrative to emerge that is easy for the reader to follow. What separates Hochschild’s work from journalism, however, is the mountain of evidence she has amassed that confirms that these six people are not exceptions, but instead are representative of the community she sought to understand.

The Question Driving the Book: The Great Paradox

In social science, we often call the object of study a “case.” Cases aren’t plucked from thin air, but instead are selected because they present a puzzle or relate to the work of other scholars. Hochschild’s study is motivated by a puzzle, one she calls the “Great Paradox,” and also responds to other attempts at solving this puzzle. In a nutshell, the Great Paradox is this: while red states are poorer and worse off by a number of measures compared to blue states, red state voters generally elect politicians who want to defund programs that could help their constituents. For example, red state residents don’t live as long as blue state residents, yet conservative politicians oppose universal health care.

Hochschild cites a number of authors who have taken stabs at explaining the Great Paradox. In What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank argues that conservative voters concerned about social issues—such as abortion or gun rights—are being hoodwinked by those who support low taxes and limited regulations, policies intended to help big business and the rich. When this economic agenda is paired with a socially conservative platform, as the GOP has done, socially conservative voters of modest means are convinced to vote against their own economic interests.

In contrast to Frank, Hochschild cites an essay by Alec MacGillis. In “Who Turned My Blue State Red?,” which was published in the New York Times, MacGillis argues that GOP voters are not voting against their own interest. Instead, he suggests that in red states those who use and could benefit from government aid don’t vote, while those just above and beyond this station do vote. Other authors Hochschild cites provide explanations around culture—for example, that a southern tradition pits voters against taxation. Hochschild isn’t fully convinced by these other positions and also argues that they fail to account for the role emotions play in politics, something she does in her project by exploring the “deep story” at the heart of the Tea Party.

Why the Environment?

To uncover the dynamics of the deep story, Hochschild focused on pollution. Why is pollution a “keyhole issue,” as Hochschild writes? Pollution takes her to the heart of the great paradox. Red states are more polluted than blue states, and yet red voters elect politicians who promote relaxing or eliminating rules governing polluters. Louisiana, with its high cancer rates and warnings about the safety of eating local fish, epitomizes this pattern. However, contrary to MacGillis’s theory, this isn’t a case of the wealthy voting against something they don’t need, as pollution impacts everyone in a community. Further, everyone Hochschild met in Louisiana said they wanted a clean environment. Here, then, is a single issue that cuts across class, but which illustrates the Great Paradox.

“If I could truly enter the minds and hearts of people on the far right on the issue of the water they drink, the animals they hunt, the lakes they swim in, the streams they fish in, the air they breathe, I could get to know them up close,” Hochschild writes. ‘Through their views on this keyhole issue—how much, if at all, should government regulate industrial polluters?—I hoped to learn about the right’s perspective on a wider range of issues. I could learn about how— emotionally speaking—politics works in us all” (p. 21).

Reading Questions

Chapter 1: Traveling to the Heart

How does Mike Schaff represent the “Great Paradox” at the center of the book?

Two writers—Thomas Frank and Alec MacGillis—have taken stabs at solving the Great Paradox. What do these two authors argue explains the Great Paradox? Why is Hochschild not fully convinced by either?

What makes the environment a “keyhole” issue that can unravel the Great Paradox? How are environmental issues different from economic ones? How does Hochschild position her subject as a test of MacGillis’s “two notches up” thesis?

What are “feeling rules,” and how can they help to understand the great paradox?

Chapter 2: “One Thing Good”

Hochschild notes Lee Sherman’s “source of news was limited to Fox News and videos and blogs exchanged by right-wing friends, which placed him in an echo chamber of doubt about the EPA, the federal government, the president, and taxes” (p. 35). If you wanted to study how someone’s news consumption shapes political views, how would you design your study? Would you conduct an ethnography, a survey, or focus groups, or would you use some other technique?

After Lee revealed that he and Pittsburg Plate Glass were behind the polluting of the Calcasieu Ship Channel and Bayou d’Inde, fishermen won a settlement from PPG. Who do you think is responsible for the pollution? Lee, his supervisor, or PPG? Why?

How would you characterize Lee’s account of visiting the IRS? What role does gender play in his account of the clerk?

Chapter 3: The Remembers

How do the Arenos use their faith to understand the environment? Can scripture complement an understanding of climate change? How does their faith and position on the environment place them in a political dilemma?

What do you make of the fact that the Arenos—putting scriptural readings together with Mike Tritico’s knowledge of science—believe in man’s role in global warming, while Mike Schaff, a college-educated man with an interest in science and a non-church attender, does not believe in the reality of global warming?

What is structural amnesia? How does it work for the Nuer of Sudan, according to the anthropologist Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard? How do the Arenos face structural amnesia?

How does Harold Areno understand the distribution of government regulations between those at the top, such as big companies, and those at the bottom, such as his family? How does this shape his views on government in general?

Chapter 4: The Candidates

Hochschild writes, “I was backing into the picture I wanted to see by noticing what wasn’t in it. It was like trying to understand a photograph by studying the negative. I found myself focusing not on what people remembered, focused on, and said, but on what they forgot, disregarded, and did not say” (p. 56). How does this approach work in this chapter? What does it have to do with structural amnesia?

How would you characterize the views of those Hochschild meets concerning government aid for the poor? What parallel does Hochschild draw between money being “given away” and polluters?

Hochschild cites LSU researchers who asked 2,000 residents after the BP oil spill, “Do you favor or oppose a moratorium that would halt offshore drilling until new safety requirements are met?” Half of those surveyed opposed it, while one-third were in favor. When asked, “Have your views about other environmental issues such as global warming or protecting wildlife changed as a result of the oil spill?” 70 percent said no. How do these results support Hochschild’s argument about the Great Paradox?

Compare and contrast “freedom to” and “freedom from.” Besides the environment, what else could highlight conflicting claims on freedom?

Hochschild observes that state regulations have different impacts on men and women, and whites and blacks. What evidence does she provide?

Chapter 5: The “Least Resistant Personality”

What is the logic underlying the Tea Party view of oil, jobs, and government aid? How is this view complicated by government figures that show oil and gas provide only 3.3 to 15 percent of the state’s jobs? How do government “incentives” further complicate the matter?

Residents of Louisiana identify with the oil industry, Hochschild writes, but what evidence does she provide to show that it’s not actually a local industry?

Compare and contrast the “low road” and “high road” strategies for regional economic development. Is every community equally positioned to pursue one or the other?

Hochschild cites two studies that show stricter environmental regulations are correlated with higher economic growth. What additional evidence could Hochschild provide to further support the argument of these studies?

Using data from the EPA and the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey, Hochschild and her research assistant found those who live in more polluted counties are less likely to be worried about pollution. How does this finding help position Hochschild’s work as a study not only of Louisiana but of the nation more broadly?

What characterizes those with the “least resistant personality”? What evidence would Hochschild need to show that oil companies in Louisiana have intentionally targeted such a personality?

Chapter 6: Industry: “The Buckle in America’s Energy Belt”

What does the Sasol expansion promise to bring to Lake Charles? What are residents giving away in return?

How do governors Huey Long and Bobby Jindal epitomize two approaches to government? How does Jindal’s approach appeal to those worried about the “poor me’s” cited by Westlake mayor Bob Hardey?

Why was working at Phillips 66 such a transformative experience for Bob? Why does affirmative action particularly irk Bob?

A Sasol-funded report argues Westlake needs to improve its quality of life with better schools and other public services. What does Westlake’s inability to provide these services say about an area’s ability to combine “low road” and “high road” strategies for economic development?

Chapter 7: The State: Governing the Market 4,000 Feet Below

How does Mike Schaff’s experience with the Bayou Corne Sinkhole place him at the center of the Great Paradox? Why is he such a good case for Hochschild to focus on?

Mike paints a clear picture of what he loved about his neighborhood, discussing community crawfish boils, fish fries, and the willingness of neighbors to lend a helping hand. How would you characterize Mike’s view of his neighborhood before the sinkhole? Is such a way of life impacted by government policies advocated by either the left or right?

How does Mike view the relationship between the salary of a government employee and their ability to perform on the job? What could undercut his position?

How does the government serve as “a status-making machine” according to Hochschild? What earns someone high status according to the people she is studying?

Chapter 8: The Pulpit and the Press: “The Topic Doesn’t Come Up”

How do churchgoers differentiate between taxes and tithes? Why do the former elicit resentment while the latter do not?

How do churches provide congregants with the “moral strength to endure” environmental destruction, according to Hochschild? How might this fit into or complicate the “least resistant personality” proposition?

Hochschild notes wide belief in the coming of a rapture. How does she illustrate an economic and social foundation for a sense of impending “end times” (p. 126)?

Mike Schaff draws a parallel between the use of the N-word and what he calls the R-word, “redneck.” Do you think the analogy is fair?

Hochschild quotes a Tea Party supporter who is critical of the CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour. Hochschild writes that the woman was critical because she thought Amanpour “was imposing liberal feeling rules about whom to feel sorry for” (p. 128). How would you characterize liberal feeling rules? Does Fox News promote its own set of feeling rules?

Chapter 9: The Deep Story

How does Hochschild combine what she’s learned about industry, government, faith, and the media to sketch out her view of the deep story? Why does an understanding of someone’s politics depend on an awareness of their deep story?

How does a perception about the way liberals see conservatives play into the deep story? What about being a heterosexual white Christian man could persuade someone to embrace this deep story?

What about President Obama makes him a symbol of resentment for the right? Why does Hochschild use his middle name, Hussein, on page 139?

Speaking for those who feel the deep story, Hochschild writes, “Blacks, women, immigrants, refugees, brown pelicans—all have cut ahead of you in line. But it’s people like you who have made this country great” (p. 139). Why is such resentment a powerful force in politics?

What evidence does Hochschild use to show that older white Americans are especially vulnerable in today’s economy? How does this fuel the deep story?

Hochschild argues that the left is focused on criticizing those up the class ladder, as epitomized by the narrative of the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. The right, on the other hand, is focused on criticizing those lower on the class ladder, especially those who rely on government handouts. How does a focus on honor on the right play into this difference? What could explain the left’s focus up the ladder?

Chapter 10: The Team Player: Loyalty Above All

How does Janice Areno understand hard work? Can a person work hard and still need to receive government aid?

Hochschild writes that Janice’s “piece of America seems like a small, brave holdout against a national tide” (p. 158). How does this perception inform her politics? What evidence would one need to see if she is right about the nation’s transformation?

Janice mentions both the Civil War and World War II. How does a valorization of military service fit into her worldview?

Janice views the unequal distribution of money as reflecting the unequal distribution of a willingness to work hard. When Hochschild asks her about poor children, she responds by saying, “I would hope that the child would say, ‘I’m going to work hard and get me an education and good job and get myself out of this environment’” (p. 160). Does this answer square with Janice’s stated view on the importance of hard work? What about children especially complicates her position?

What about a cosmopolitan sensibility threatens Janice? How is the cosmopolitan sensibility different from the sensibility Janice embraces?

Chapter 11: The Worshipper: Invisible Renunciation

Jackie Tabor defends her mother’s receipt of welfare, but notes she thinks the proportion of such deserving recipients is small. What does this suggest about the way personal experience shapes views on who is and who isn’t deserving of help?

How does the Christian imperative to renounce desire influence one’s willingness to endure pollution?

Jackie notes that she actively avoids discussing pollution with neighbors and friends, partly out of a kindly deference to those who work in the plants and might feel bad about the pollution their plant causes. How many non-management workers, in cases where their plant is causing harm, do you think feel a “borrowed” shame? How does this facilitate structural amnesia?

Unlike Janice Areno, Jackie feels sad about pollution and the dangers it presents. However, they both arrive at the same position concerning government regulation. How is that the case?

Chapter 12: The Cowboy: Stoicism

Donny McCorquodale views standing up in the face of danger as honorable, while Mike Tritico wants to “reduce the need for bravery” (p. 189). How do these two positions influence their respective views on the regulation of polluters?

Hochschild cites a 1997 study that found exposure to chemicals on the job doesn’t correlate to concern about exposure. Instead, those least exposed were the most worried, while those facing the greatest risk brushed worry aside. How does this finding support Hochschild’s argument about Cowboys?

How does masculinity factor into Hochschild’s account of the Cowboy?

Chapter 13: The Rebel: A Team Loyalist with a New Cause

When Mike Schaff tries to frame his environment activism as a way to limit taxes at a meeting with a Tea Party group, he is rebuffed. What does this suggest about how people make political decisions? What happened to push Mike from the right to the left on the issue of the environment?

Mike proposes a free market solution to pollution that uses insurance companies to hold chemical companies accountable. Why does Hochschild suggest this won’t work?

Hochschild suggests that Louisiana is an “oil state,” its government and media beholden to oil. The state, she suggests, is doing the “moral dirty work” for the oil industry—pretending to protect the people but not really doing so. Is this one reason Mike Schaff feels suspicious of both the state and the federal government?

Why is the federal government a target for so much of Mike’s resentment?

Chapter 14: The Fires of History: The 1860s and the 1960s

How did the social organization of southern life in the 1860s contribute to a focus on the very wealthy and slaves, the two extremes on the economic ladder?

How did the South’s defeat in the Civil War create a narrative of northern critique of the South? How is this applied to present-day issues like Obamacare?

What about the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s hearkens back to the 1860s for white southerners? How do both periods shape the perception among white men that, as Hochschild writes, they are being “shoved back in line” (215)?

Chapter 15: Strangers No Longer: The Power of Promise

Hochschild writes (notably, before the 2016 election), “Looking back at my previous research, I see that the scene had been set for Trump’s rise, like kindling before a match is lit” (p. 221). What about Trump’s campaign fits the deep story so well?

Hochschild describes Trump as an “emotions candidate” (p. 225). Why does she use this characterization? Can any other politicians throughout history be labeled as such?

Borrowing the language of the sociologist Emile Durkheim, Hochschild writes that the Trump rally is an example of “collective effervescence.” Are there other scenes from daily life that exhibit collective effervescence? How does collective effervescence bind people together?

How does Trump’s disregard of “politically correct” language play into the right’s resentment of feeling rules?

What does Hochschild mean by emotional self-interest? How could one’s economic self-interest and emotional self-interest be at odds?

Chapter 16: “They Say There Are Beautiful Trees”

How would you characterize the fiscal condition of Louisiana’s state government as Republican governor Bobby Jindal left office? How does the response of Democratic governor John Bel Edwards play into perceptions the right has of the left?

In what ways does Hochschild show our culturally divided nation is deeply interconnected? Can you think of others?

Hochschild writes two letters, one to the liberal left, and another to the people she has befriended in Louisiana. How would you characterize her attempts to persuade each audience? Compare and contrast the rhetorical strategies employed by the two letters.

Topics in Focus: Gender and Race


In her account, Hochschild shows how men view their position in the world. In the realm of jobs, the most highly valued—and well paid—are traditionally male jobs—servicing the oil rigs, fitting pipes, or working as operators in petrochemical plants. In the realm of regulation, the “guy” activities—drinking, shooting guns—are lightly regulated. But women’s reproductive health is tightly regulated; it is almost impossible for a woman to exercise her legal right to an abortion.

However, a key aspect of the deep story in Hochschild’s account is a perception that men are the one’s getting the short end of the stick. Writing about this resentment, Hochschild gives voice to the perception that women entering the workforce has made everything harder. “Your dad didn’t have to compete with women for scarce positions at the office,” she writes (p. 138).

The threat to men, Hochschild argues, isn’t only perceived to be economic. Hochschild writes that her subjects are living in “an era of numerous subtle challenges to masculinity” (p. 202). Not only do women not need to rely on men for income—an arrangement which reaffirmed the authority of husbands above wives—but “with talk of transgender people, what, really, was a man?” they now must wonder (p. 202). With gender roles and gender identities becoming more fluid, Hochschild notes the men she came to know felt threatened and adrift. Making matters worse, “If they stood up to declare themselves proud to be male—unless they were part of a men’s group trying to unlearn traditional ways—they risked being seen as male chauvinists” (p. 215).

The emotional experience of this perception fuels the deep story for men. Buttressing this finding that men are particularly well positioned to embrace the deep story, Hochschild cites survey research showing that more men support the Tea Party than women and that conservative women are more supportive of government aid than conservative men. While women embrace the deep story, men have an additional category of line cutters to keep a wary eye on.

How do the women Hochschild profiles embody or challenge traditional gender roles? Does Janice Areno challenge any assumptions about traditional femininity?

To test whether men on the left have a different view of masculinity, what kind of project could you conduct? What sort of evidence would you need to collect? What population would you focus on?

Closely related to gender is sexuality. What role does sexuality play in the deep story?


As with gender, race plays a key role in the deep story. The animosity Tea Partiers feel toward then-president Barack Obama is illustrative. Their perception of Obama is colored by a suspicion that he could not have achieved his successes—especially his two Ivy League degrees—without extra help. That help must have come from the federal government in the form of affirmative action, Hochschild’s subjects think. “And if he’s there,” Hochschild writes, giving voice to her subjects’ resentment, “what kind of a slouch does his rise make you feel like, you who are supposed to be so much more privileged?” (p. 146). No such suspicion or resentment is directed toward Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, a senator who also holds two Ivy League degrees.

Despite their perception that the success of black men and women must be aided with an unfair advantage, the people Hochschild comes to know declare they are not racist, using as a barometer for racism the use of slurs or a declared hatred. In contrast to this definition, Hochschild writes, “As I and others use the term, however, racism refers to the belief in a natural hierarchy that places blacks at the bottom, and the tendency of whites to judge their own worth by distance from that bottom. By that definition, many Americans, north and south, are racist. And racism appears not simply in personal attitudes but in structural arrangements—as when polluting industries move closer to black neighborhoods than to white” (p. 147).

Using this definition, racism is not limited to the south, Hochschild insists, yet Louisiana nevertheless presents an extreme case. While discussing the right’s embrace of punitive policing, she notes that prisoners in the state are disproportionately black. But while such a statistic is not unique to Louisiana, and is true of many liberal states, she highlights more overt instances of policies targeting black residents. “Jefferson Davis Parish passed a bill banning the wearing of pants in public that revealed ‘skin beneath their waists or their underwear,’ and newspaper accounts featured images, taken from the back, of two black teenage boys exposing large portions of their undershorts,” Hochschild writes.

Of course, the story of race isn’t only about blacks and whites. Prejudice against immigrants and Muslims is tied up with conceptions of race and ethnicity. As Hochschild writes, to her subjects, “immigrants and refugees seemed to be sailing past the Statue of Liberty into a diminishing supply of good jobs” (p. 143). In fact, the “line cutters” Hochschild describes are those who are different from her subjects, either in the way they look, in the religion they practice, or in where they live.

Hochschild notes that the Tea Partiers she studied often assume that people of color abuse government aid. How does this account square with the fact that many Tea Party enthusiasts confessed to using government aid themselves—unemployment during hunting season, or Medicaid for elderly or disabled relatives who lack long-term health insurance?

How does race play into the concern Hochschild finds about “politically correct” speech?

How does Hochschild describe the process by which the Tea Partiers she studies learn about people of color? How could such an information source be misleading or incomplete?

Further Research Activities: Looking at the Environment, Faith, and the Media

The Environment

At the center of Strangers in Their Own Land is the pollution harming residents of Louisiana. The major source of these pollutants is large multinational oil and petrochemical companies, most of which are based abroad. Hochschild emphasizes the fact that the chemicals produced in Louisiana and other red states are relied upon by residents of blue states, who not only enjoy the benefits these products bring—such as gas to heat a home or the plastic in a smartphone—but who also escape the destruction stemming from the production of such chemicals.

How is the production of petrochemical products distributed across the country and planet? What do the places where such production is concentrated have in common? Where is clean energy concentrated at home and abroad?


Faith is central to the people Hochschild meets in Louisiana. For some, it offers a means to endure the trials of pollution. For many, it is a center of social life and offers an enclave from a world where the culture is rapidly changing. For a few, it provides a lens to understand climate change, even if many of faith deny the existence of such a transformation. However, while Christianity is valued, Islam is seen as a threatening force, and Syrian refugees typify “line cutters” receiving an unfair advantage in achieving the American dream.

Outside of Louisiana, how have different faith communities responded to pollution and global warming? Are there examples of religious groups taking the lead in green movements? What about faiths other than Christianity?


Hochschild notes that Fox News is the dominant news source of the Tea Partiers she studies, while others are devoted listeners of the radio host Rush Limbaugh. With his characterization of the left as “femi-nazis” and “environmental wackos,” Limbaugh provides a firewall against the insults conservatives perceive the left to toss in their direction. If Limbaugh offers comfort, Fox News stirs alarm, by raising concerns of “a ‘terror mosque’ at Ground Zero, of the ‘left’s secret immigration plan’ to wipe traditional America off the face of the earth, of Obama’s supposed release of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, of his supposed masterminding the massacre at Fort Hood” (p. 127).

How has the consumption of media changed over the years in America? Have partisan patterns in news preferences grown or declined? What impacts can you infer from these trends?

Key Concepts

The Cowboy. The cowboy is one of three modes Hochschild identifies for enduring the environmental devastation of Louisiana. The cowboy, personified by Donny McCorquodale, valorizes daring in the face of danger. Such an approach isn’t seen as a sad necessity in tricky circumstances, but instead a source of virtue. Being brave in the face of environmental ruin, learning to take risks and not sweat the frequency with which they are taken, is a sign of moral character.

Deep Story. Hochschild writes that a deep story is “a story that feels as if it were true” (p. 16). Everyone has a deep story, a narrative that orients the emotional prism through which events and encounters are assigned positive or negative feelings. As Hochschild writes, “it’s the story feelings tell, in the language of symbols. It removes judgment. It removes fact. It tells us how things feel” (p. 135). While we all carry deep stories with us, the focus of Hochschild’s text is on the deep story of the Tea Party. In her telling, this story can best be explained by envisioning a long line stretching toward the American dream. As older white Christians, most of them men, wait patiently in line, the American dream keeps slipping further and further out of sight. Jobs are tough to come by, requiring skills you weren’t taught, but you’re fine toughing it out in line. However, up ahead, the Tea Partiers perceive people who are different form them—women, people of color, immigrants, Syrian refugees—cutting ahead in line. In fact, they’re cutting ahead with the help of the federal government, an entity that promotes policies of affirmative action, policies which, in effect, punish you for being white, Christian and male. And the architect behind all of this? President Barack Obama, himself no doubt a beneficiary of such an unfair leg up. Bearing such a deep story, Tea Party voters are inclined to oppose anything having to do with the federal government, even if the federal government could be of use, through job training, unemployment benefits, or, central to this book, regulations meant to protect citizens from pollutants.

Empathy Wall. Hochschild writes that her goal for the project was to scale the empathy wall dividing red and blue states. Such a wall, Hochschild writes, is “an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs or whose childhood is rooted in different circumstances” (p. 5). Lacking familiarity with those on the other side, we project easy assumptions without even realizing the shallowness of our evidence.

Feeling Rules. Such rules are a set of shared beliefs about the proper way to feel regarding what is right or wrong. Hochschild writes that the right seeks to be released from what they perceive as liberal feeling rules, namely, insistences to feel “happy for the gay newlywed, sad at the plight of the Syrian refugee, unresentful about paying taxes” (p. 15). Such rules, the right argues, precludes feeling pride for being white or a man. Hochschild links feeling rules to “politically correct” speech, which Donald Trump denigrates at the campaign rally Hochschild attends. By throwing out PC speech, Trump was also discarding the obligation to follow liberal feeling rules, a move that resonated deeply with his supporters.

Honor Squeeze. Deeply related to the Tea Party deep story, the honor squeeze concerns the perception by the right that their identity as white Christian men or women is not seen as honorable. While it is okay to be proud of one’s black ancestry, for example, being proud of white heritage is seen as being racist. Turning to one’s work for a sense of pride is tricky, as automation and changes to the workforce make finding a decent job harder and harder as one ages. Being proud of being southern is also tough, as it lacks the cachet of the coasts and is affiliated with racism and backwardness. Meanwhile, both family life and the church are under assault by progressive secular forces, as Tea Partiers perceive it. As a result, the available sources of honor are being squeezed.

Structural Amnesia. Structural amnesia is a process by which the distribution of power in a society—monopolized by fathers or controlled by big business, for example—shapes what is collectively remembered or forgotten. Attention to such a process reminds us that what we remember about history, both public and personal, is inevitably distorted by what is left behind. By looking to the Nuer, the anthropologist Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, who coined the term, was able to learn about how kinship and gender organized society. By studying Louisiana and its propensity to forget past environmental disasters, Hochschild illustrates the deference given to industry and the optimism about its potential economic benefits.

The Team Player. The team player is one of three modes Hochschild identifies for enduring the environmental devastation of Louisiana. Janice Areno, with her menagerie of decorative elephants, is example of choosing to endureing pollution. For Janice and others like her, pollution is the price one pays for the fruits of industry, and they believe only the GOP works to support the growth of industry. As a result, Janice developed the capacity not to feel bad about the pollution all around her, despite its direct impact on her family.

The Worshipper. The worshipper is one of three modes Hochschild identifies for enduring the environmental devastation of Louisiana. This approach is epitomized by Jackie Tabor, who is perturbed by pollution, but who is encouraged by her faith to renounce any desire for it to be resolved. Similar to Janice, she gives up wanting clean air and water to ensure that her community can benefit from industry.

Who’s Who

Annette and Harold Areno. Harold and Annette are a married couple who live alongside the polluted Bayou d’Inde. The pair, both cancer survivors, witnessed the gradual destruction of the bayou by pollution.

Janice Areno. The niece of Harold and Annette, Janice is a devoted Republican and successful accountant.

Sally Cappel. The progressive mother-in-law of Hochschild’s former student, Sally introduced Hochschild to the white south.

Bob Hardey. Bob is the mayor of Westlake, a town home to a major expansion of Sasol, the South Africa-based petrochemical giant.

General Russel Honoré. Honoré led a rescue force into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and is a folk hero in the state. Now Honoré works to promote environmental regulations through his leadership of the Green Army, a consortium of small environmental groups.

Madonna Massey. Madonna is a member of a Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana, a gifted gospel singer, and devoted fan of Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio host.

Donny McCorquodale. Donny is the conservative political sparring partner of the more liberal Mike Tritico. He is known for his embrace of risk-taking, something which he views as a source of honor.

Mike Schaff. An environmentalist and conservative, Mike is torn between his hatred of regulation and his desire for a clean environment. Mike’s home was devastated by the Bayou Corne Sinkhole.

Lee Sherman. Like Mike, Lee is an environmentalist and conservative. While working for Pittsburg Plate Glass, Lee illegally dumped toxic chemicals into the Calcasieu Ship Channel and Bayou d’Inde.

Shirley Slack. The conservative best friend of Sally Cappel. Shirley helped Hochschild gain entry into the world of conservative Louisiana.

Jackie Tabor. Jackie is a stay-at-home mom and devoted Christian who said “Sunday is my favorite day.” While very concerned about pollution of the environment, she also feels that it is “the price we pay for capitalism.”

Mike Tritico. Mike is a political independent, marine biologist, and environmental activist. Considered to be a recluse by some, his views put him at odds with many of his right-wing friends.

Other Titles of Interest

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop

Mind of the South by WJ Cash

The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker by Katherine Cramer

What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank

The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars by Todd Gitlin

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood by Kristin Luker

The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism by Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson


Reading Group Guide for Strangers in Their Own Land

Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land is now available in paperback from The New Press. We hope this reading group guide helps lead discussions for book clubs. Many thanks.

1. Early in the book, when introducing her important idea of “empathy walls,” Arlie Russell Hochschild mentions that in 1960 fewer than 5 percent of Americans would have been disturbed if their child married a member of the opposite political party, while in 2010 over 30 percent would find it troubling. Clearly this speaks to our ever-increasing political divide. Have you yourself experienced or observed this phenomenon in your community? (p. 6)

2. Hochschild argues that our political split has widened because “the right has moved right—not because the left has moved left.” Do you agree or disagree? Is her evidence persuasive? What are the implications for our democracy? (p. 7)

3. What does Hochschild consider “the Great Paradox” and why is Louisiana an extreme example? (p. 8)

4. Early on as well as later in the book, Hochschild mentions the friendship of Sally Cappel and Shirley Slack and says she believes “their friendship models what our country needs to forge: the capacity to connect across difference.” Do you agree? Do you have friends from across the political divide? What challenges do these “across-the-divide” friendships present? (p. 13, 240)

5. Discuss the story of Lee Sherman—how does he represent “the Great Paradox through a keyhole”? How is it possible for an environmentalist whistle blower to also be a member of the Tea Party? (p. 33)

6. When telling the story of Harold Areno, Hochschild quotes him as saying, “If you shoot an endangered brown pelican, they’ll put you in jail. But if a company kills the brown pelican by poisoning the fish he eats? They let it go. I think they overregulate the bottom because it’s harder to regulate the top.” Hochschild mentions the brown pelican throughout the book—how does the pelican function as an important motif in the book? (p. 52, 138, 212)

7. When spending time with the General, whom Hochschild calls an “empathy wall leaper,” she writes that Louisiana residents prize the freedom to do certain things but resent the freedom from things like gun violence or toxic pollution, even when such restrictions might improve their lives. How does the General deal with what he calls this “psychological program”? (p. 71)

8. Hochschild provides overwhelming evidence that establishes a correlation between pollution and red states. She also discusses a report from the 1980s that helped identify communities that would not resist “locally undesirable land use.” Do you think she’s right to connect this profile of the “least resistant personality” with the General’s idea of the “psychological program”? (p. 81, Appendix B)

9. In a moment of feeling stuck on her own side of the empathy wall, Hochschild asks Mike Schaff what the federal government has done that he feels grateful for. What do you make of his answer and the idea that the less you depend on the government, the higher your status? Do you feel one’s status is diminished by receiving government help of any sort? Do others you know feel this way—and why? Do you think people generally feel less gratitude to the government today than in the past? What are you grateful for from the government? (p. 113–114)

10. Discuss the role of religion in the lives of the individuals Hochschild profiles in determining their political choices, priorities, and outlook. How does it contribute to the Great Paradox? What do you make of Hochschild’s observation that the churches she visited “seemed to focus more on a person’s moral strength to endure than on the will to change the circumstances that called on that strength”? (p. 124, 179)

11. Hochschild says that Fox News exerts a powerful influence over her Tea Party friends—what is it about Fox that appeals to them and what do they find troubling about liberal commentators? Is all media biased? What media do you read, watch, or listen to, and do you think it is impartial? (p. 126)

12. In the deep story, Hochschild presents the perspective of people she meets to understand and explain their point of view, focusing on feelings and emotions. Does this ring true to you? Hochschild says we all have a deep story—do you agree? What is yours? (p. 135)

13. In the deep story, Hochschild suggests that blue-collar Americans have felt marginalized in a number of ways, including by the election of President Obama. How do you think these feelings culminated in the election of Trump? What role did racism possibly play in the election? Later, Hochschild attends a Trump rally—why does she call him an “emotions candidate”? (p. 140, 225)

14. How does Hochschild’s idea of racism differ from Mike Schaff’s? Which resonates more with you? (p. 147)

15. Throughout the book, Hochschild discusses the Great Paradox mainly in terms of the environment, but she also notes that the way that Tea Party members embrace the free market, which favors big business, often works against their interest since many own or work for small businesses. Why does their deep story make it hard for them to see this? Must we choose between the free market and a healthy environment? (p. 150)

16. Hochschild presents Mike and Donny’s argument about the I-10 bridge as dialogue—how does this capture the Great Paradox? If you could enter the conversation, what would you say to Mike and/or Donny? (p. 185)

17. What role does memory play in Hochschild’s story of the people she meets with regard to the environmental disasters, the development of industry, and the way things used to be? Looking at Hochschild’s visit with Mayor Hardey, how do industry and local government allow the potential disaster and pollution to re-occur in the name of business? What is it about the residents’ deep story that allows them to be susceptible to “structural amnesia”? (p. 51, 90, 198)

18. How does Hochschild explain Tea Party members’ identification with Trump and the 1 percent? After reading the book, are there ideas or stories that you can draw from the book that help you understand Trump’s victory? (p. 217)

19. What does Hochschild mean by the “northern strategy”—and how does it fit into the historical narrative she provides? She suggests that the southern legacy of secession has been applied to social class: it’s not that the South is seceding from the North but that the rich are seceding from the poor. What do you make of this point? (p. 220)

20. By the end of the book, Hochschild expresses admiration for her new Tea Party friends, mentioning their capacity for loyalty, sacrifice, and endurance. Are there other notable traits you became aware of while reading the book? (p. 234)

21. Many of the people Hochschild meets are worried about jobs and blame government regulations for getting in the way of jobs. Yet the petrochemical companies in Louisiana are for the most part owned by foreign companies, so the money leaves the state and the jobs are often held by temporary workers from the Philippines or Mexico. How do you explain this disconnect?

22. Did the book make you feel hopeful about climbing the empathy wall and the possibility of bridging the political divide with people in your own community?

23. In Appendix C, Hochschild provides some startling research that belies more than a few commonly held perceptions. For example, 40 percent of people do not work for the federal and state government; the correct percentage is 1.9 percent. And it’s not true that “the more environmental regulations we have, the fewer jobs.” Why are the perceptions of some of the people Hochschild writes about so deeply at odds with the research and facts?

24. Hochschild argues that left and right focus on different areas of conflict or “flashpoints.” Do you agree? (p. 236)

25. Hochschild says that our deep stories lead us to embrace certain aspects of reality and avoid others. What aspect of reality does the right tend to avoid? What about the left?

26. Hochschild argues that attached to the deep story of the right and left are different strategies for coping with the new trends in globalization, frightening to both sides. Which resonates more with you? Do you think different versions of the deep story apply to voters in rural areas or rust belt towns? (p. 236)

27. Some readers and critics have reported having been changed by the experience of reading Strangers in Their Own Land. Did the book change the way you see the world or think or feel?

Arlie Russell Hochschild is one of the most influential sociologists of her generation. She is the author of nine books, including The Second Shift, The Time Bind, The Managed Heart, The Outsourced Self, and Strangers in Their Own Land (now available in paperback from The New Press). Four of her books have been named as New York Times Notable Books of the Year and her work appears in sixteen languages. The winner of the Ulysses Medal as well as Guggenheim and Mellon grants, she lives in Berkeley, California. Strangers in Their Own Land was a New York Times bestseller, as well as a finalist for the National Book Award and the California Book Award.