Making things political

Authored by: Nina Eliasoph , Paul Lichterman

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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While asking “who wields power over whom” is crucial, researchers need to take a prior step, to ask how people politicize or depoliticize other people, relationships, ideas, or institutions. Through what shared methods does politicizing or depoliticizing happen? Those methods, central to political culture, involve two combined kinds of political-cultural work: actors use shared if often contested moral vocabularies and/or narratives to characterize political acts and relationships. Those discourses become fully meaningful, in turn, as actors coordinate interaction in social scenes, guided by implicit understandings of “what we are doing here.” Scene style is participants’ implicit way of coordinating action and defining the meaning of action in a scene. A society’s political life hosts a finite number of scene styles. Focusing especially on scene style, the chapter reveals methods by which people make things political, drawing illustrations from church-based community service groups and youth civic engagement projects. Different methods afford different openings for politicized expression that could neither be predicted simply by actors’ social location nor understood purely in terms of domination and resistance. By focusing on how actors make things political, researchers may grasp globally varied, patterned ways that political action inhabits different institutions and social spaces.

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