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An Invitation

Professor Arlie Russell Hochschild Speaks at 2017 Honors Convocation
An Invitation

Professor Arlie Russell Hochschild

Renowned sociologist Dr. Arlie Russell Hochschild recently gave the keynote address at the 2017 Ogden Honors College Convocation.

Addressing a packed Claude L. Shaver Theatre filled with Honors College students, Hochschild spoke about her critically acclaimed book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, as well as the challenges facing America in the current divisive political climate.

Credited with founding the “sociology of emotion,” Hochschild’s work has long explored the connection between social issues and the personal sphere. Her oeuvre includes such titles as The Second Shift, The Time Bind, The Managed Heart and The Outsourced Self. Hochschild also holds the title of professor emerita of sociology at University of California, Berkeley, and is the recipient of the Guggenheim, Fulbright and Mellon fellowships, as well as three awards bestowed by the American Sociological Association.

Ogden Honors College Dean Jonathan Earle first provided some background for incoming students on the origins of the Honors Convocation before introducing Hochschild.

“For us, convocation refers to a formal ceremony in which arriving freshmen are welcomed to a college: in this case the Ogden Honors College,” Earle said. “It has become a tradition to have special guests at our convocation, and build the ceremony around a common book we all read, together.”

Strangers, a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award, confronts the anxieties of self-identified south Louisiana Tea Party members and attempts to reconcile their suspicions of the federal government with the perceived decline of their home state. Hochschild refers to the roots of this deep-set fear as “the Red State Paradox”— the fact that, consistently, the poorest states with the greatest social and financial problems, who receive more money in federal aid than they give in tax dollars, tend to be the most mistrustful of the concept of government.

“But that was my question,” Hochschild conceded. “It wasn't their question. They always wanted to set my question aside because something else was more important, and I had to hear that more important issue: the deep story.”

This “deep story” Hochschild articulates in Strangers charts the emotional truth many on the right experience as they attempt to come to terms with the perception of their dwindling influence in a society they do not recognize. Figured metaphorically as standing in a long line winding up a hill, “as in a pilgrimage,” the deep story tells of “line cutters” who seek “special privileges” to get ahead, as opposed to those who have been waiting patiently in line to reach the shining top of the hill, and the American Dream.   

Much of Strangers, then, seeks to do the difficult emotional labor of empathizing with situations that, Hochschild admits, are vastly different from her own. Hochschild pointed out that, while her focus on the role of empathy in bridging the divide between ideologies has earned her criticism, she feels this tool is underrated as a method of diffusing political and social tensions.

“To empathize with a person you disagree with isn't to agree with them,” Hochschild said. “No, we aren't that simple. And empathizing isn't the only thing we're doing. It's in addition to other things we're doing.”  

Hochschild also referred to the moving emails and letters she has received since the publication of Strangers, men and women from rural America who recognized themselves in the southern Louisiana community of Lake Charles. According to Hochschild, these are the “good angels” that are not seen as newsworthy on a national scale, but who contribute to the incremental erosion of the emotional barriers between right and left.

“I discovered a lot of energy for activism, and a lot of energy for outreach,” Hochschild said. “You watch television and you see a lot of people who are angry at each other — but under the radar a lot is actually going on.”

A Question and Answer session followed Hochschild’s address, and the event closed with a book signing.

Dean Earle

"The talk was wonderful,” Freshman Taylor Goss said. “Dr. Hochschild has a real knack for taking away any tension surrounding an issue and relating to you on the most human of levels."

Junior Miranda Heath, who had a chance to read Strangers previously through the LASAL program, echoed Goss’ experience.

"I was really impressed with the book as a whole,” Heath said. “When she describes the book as hard to read — I don't feel that, but I'm not from Lake Charles. I think that's definitely something I'm interested in, in terms of the ways in which education and class intersect."

"I've never heard any author speak before, let alone somebody that wrote about the community that I live in and I connect to on a personal level,” Freshman Ian Sager said. “Hearing her expansive words on seeing people from the other side, having empathy and trying to understand...it changes your opinion on a lot of things.”

According to Hochschild, the Ogden Honors College provided her with the opportunity to reach out to students who attend school so close to the setting of her book, and to encourage them to take positive action.

“I'm very hopeful that some of the questions that this book raises you will take as an invitation,” Hochschild said. “That is what this book is: an invitation. It's not a set of answers. It's an invitation to pick up questions that you began to wonder about and follow them out.”

For sophomore Courtnay Hotard, Hochschild’s speech did just that.

“The speech was an invitation to a conversation that I think we all need to have,” Hotard said. “I think that if people did have a little more empathy, and were more open to having that empathy, it would definitely close a few of the gaps that we have."

The Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College is a vibrant, diverse and prestigious community located at the heart of LSU.  The Ogden Honors College provides students with a curriculum of rigorous seminar classes, as well as opportunities for undergraduate research, culminating in the Honors Thesis. Its focus on community service, study abroad, internships and independent research helps today’s high-achieving students become tomorrow’s leaders.

Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, Ogden Honors College. For more information, email jacquelined@lsu.edu or call 225-578-0083.