What We Talk About When We Talk About Taxes


Direct all correspondence to Jeffrey L. Kidder, Department of Sociology, Northern Illinois University, Zulauf Hall #816, DeKalb, IL 60115; e-mail: jkidder@niu.edu.


Taxes are a preeminent issue in domestic politics, but the prevalence, content, and shape of public discussion on taxation is often perplexing to social researchers. We argue that part of the confusion arises from the lack of qualitative data on the meanings Americans associate with taxation. In order to remedy this lack we conducted semi-structured interviews with white, Southern, small business owners. In answering our questions, our respondents constructed narratives that connected taxation with exploitation and a loss of personal freedom. We propose that everyday fiscal discourse is morally charged and interconnected with boundary work and a sense of group position. Further, qualitative research into tax talk can help make sense of the current political and social landscape (e.g., the continued cultural saliency of the Tea Party).