Culture and Political subjectivities

  • Hervik, Peter (Project Participant)

Project Details

Description

The primary goal of this workshop is to facilitate collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas between participating scholars in order to improve theories of political subjectivities. For the purposes of this workshop, we define “political subjectivities” as thoughts, feelings, motivations, identities, and memories, not just about electoral politics, but more broadly regarding public policy and disputes over the social distribution of power, status, and economic rewards. By drawing together psychological anthropologists who examine political subjectivities within sophisticated psycho-cultural frames, this workshop will, for the first time, allow participants to share ideas and theoretical models of political subjectivity that have been, for the most part, developed in isolation. Participants’ models emerge from ethnographic fieldwork experiences that include work in the United States, Europe (Scandinavia, Romania, Germany, Turkey), Israel, Nigeria, Kuwait, the Caribbean, and South Asia. While this workshop is being organized by psychological anthropologists, our commitment to synthesizing the study of psychology, culture, and politics in order to theorize political subjectivities will be useful to political anthropologists, political sociologists, and political psychologists. A multi-day workshop is needed to engage in a broad-based sharing of ideas and the requisite debate that will emerge from these conversations.
Psychological anthropologists have only rarely taken political identities, outlooks, and actions as core objects of study deserving their own consideration from a psycho-cultural standpoint. The lack of focused attention on political subjectivities in psychological anthropology is ironic since the subfield began with culture-and-personality studies, including ones that considered possible connections between typical personality structures in a society, such as an “authoritarian” personality, and the form of government in that society. Such overly general descriptions were rightly critiqued. As a result of this early work, as well as suspicion of unfounded psychological universals, anthropologists who study political processes have sometimes been critical of psychological approaches, as Mageo and Knauft (2002) note. Even significant scholarship that involved more sophisticated early melding of psychological and political approaches – like Wallace’s (1956) work on the roots of revitalization movements in identity conflicts that force cognitive reorganization – failed to overcome the bias against works that combined psycho-cultural and political research in anthropology.
We believe that the time is ripe to return to the question of political subjectivities by bringing contemporary research on the intersection of psychology, culture, and politics to bear on this topic. Today, person-centered approaches to the study of culture and politics are becoming more common in anthropology. In recent years, for instance, one trend has been for anthropologists to provide detailed personal narratives from victims of violence and social marginalization (e.g., Biehl et al. 2007). We consider these detailed individual accounts to be an improvement over top-down descriptions that focus on the ways people are “subjected” to political discourses without reference to the experience or agency of those subjects. However some of these accounts of subjectivities are not well theorized, leaving unexplained why people react in the ways they do.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date01/12/201331/12/2016

Keywords

  • political subjectivity
  • psychological anthropology
  • political anthropology
  • identity
  • exclusionary beliefs

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