The story of a small town’s fight over LGBTQ+ rights that reveals how the far right weaponizes social issues to declare whose lives are valuable—and whose are expendable
A new preface bridges the past and the present in Arlene Stein’s award-winning work of narrative sociology, The Stranger Next Door, contextualizing the so-called “culture wars” as they have evolved since the post-Reagan years. With deep on-the-ground research and vivid storytelling, Stein explores how the right mobilizes fear and uncertainty to shift blame onto “strangers” and how these symbolic struggles undermine democracy.
Faced with globalization and automation, the working-class citizens of the Pacific Northwest’s “Timbertown” felt left behind, fearing job loss and the hollowing out of their small town. Religious conservatives convinced many local citizens that queer people were to blame. A bitter battle to deny the civil liberties of sexual minorities ensued.
Though set in the 1990s, The Stranger Next Door is a story that echoes loudly today. Stein looks at how local conflicts over LGTBQ+ rights and other social issues paved the way for the contemporary right-wing populist resurgence. The Stranger Next Door positions today’s battles over transgender rights and critical race theory in a long-running struggle to define America, offering a razor-sharp examination of how the right manufactures local culture wars to divide and conquer.
About the Author
Arlene Stein is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University. The author and editor of numerous books, she received the Ruth Benedict Prize for The Stranger Next Door. She is co-editor of The Perils of Populism.
“Subtle, textured, and urgent . . . This crucial history of right-wing resentments speaks across recent decades of US politics.” —Judith Butler
“The second edition of The Stranger Next Door could not be more relevant to the current backlash of homophobia and transphobia in the United States. This book is brimming with insights on how personal anxieties about the ‘other’ can turn into ugly political campaigns and how concerns about economic and social precarity can fuel, often indirectly, bigotry and exclusion.” —Alexandra Minna Stern, author of Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate
“By combining the meticulousness of an ethnographer with a writer’s commitment to storytelling, Stein has written a book that’s surprisingly compelling—or, better, compelling because it’s surprising.” —David L. Kirp, The Nation
“The Stranger Next Door’s contemporary subject and theoretical breadth, coupled with a remarkable lack of jargon, should make it a sociological classic.” —Mary Bernstein, American Journal of Sociology
“A fascinating look at the psychology of fear and persuasion.” —Monica Drake, The Oregonian
“Every liberal ought to read this. . . . Arlene Stein provides an important depiction of life in a town which became a vortex of national and local issues.” —Tex Sample, Christian Century
“What’s especially valuable about Stein’s book is her detailed look at each individual’s take on the meaning of the campaign and her patient exploration of the wide variety of forces shifting the ground of these people’s lives.” —E. J. Graff, American Prospect
“In her cogent analysis of just how sickeningly simple it is to create an ‘other,’ a ‘stranger’ upon whom blame for our problems may be shifted, Stein has touched to the very heart of the social upheaval in America today.” —Dan Hays, Salem (Oreg.) Statesman-Journal
“This book displays interpretive sociology at its best.” —Robert N. Bellah, coauthor of Habits of the Heart and The Good Society