Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2013

Culture and Social Power

Lecturers: Professor Wendy Griswold,
Department of Sociology;
Northwestern University, USA;
and Professor Fredrik Engelstad,
Department of Sociology and Human Geography,
University of Oslo, Norway

Main disciplines: Sociology, Social Anthropology, Culture and Society

Dates: 29 July - 2 August 2013
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants

Power is the capacity to get what you want in the face of opposition. While exercising power can entail brute force (pointing a gun) or overwhelming economic resources (buying compliance), both are costly and inefficient. Culture enhances the capacity to get what you want by making potential opponents want it too, in other words, by making reference to what seems right, natural, legitimate, even holy. While a ruler can take and maintain power by subduing the population with an army or with food handouts, he is more likely to remain in power, and at less cost, if the subjects think he has royal blood or has a moral right to govern.

Culture — symbols, values, beliefs, rhetorics, ideas, performances, scripts — can legitimate the status quo, inspire revolutionary change, persuade people that power relationships are just or unjust, celebrate or question collective identities, unite people, divide people, free people, manipulate people, dull or sharpen the capacity for social criticism. In the twenty-first century the ICT (information and communications technology) revolution has accelerated the speed at which cultural messages circulate. Meanwhile, within the social sciences and among the general public, a passionate debate over the degree to which “culture matters” is taking place.

This course will survey the current thinking on the culture/power relationship. Conceptions of social power have turned toward cultural analyses during the last twenty-five years following a recognition that analyzing political phenomena in terms of social structure — i.e. the distribution of power resources — is insufficient. At the same time, theoretical developments during the last decade have revealed significant weaknesses in the dominant theories of culture and power, both of the structuralist and the post-structuralist strand. In order to understand the interplay of culture and power, the focus must be directed toward communicative processes and the implicit or explicit exercise of power embodied in them.

In this course we explore how culture plays a role in creating, perpetuating, critiquing, and overturning power structures. Readings and lectures emphasize the mechanisms in the interplay between culture and power at all political levels, from the domestic to the transnational. Using an explicit comparative approach, the course will help participants move from mastering an empirical body of scholarship to gaining a more general theoretical understanding.



Readings marked with *** are included in the course compendium to be sent to the participants in advance. We encourage all students to obtain at least some of the additional reading material by themselves, and read it in advance of the course.

FE - Fredrik Engelstad
WG - Wendy Griswold

Monday 29 July

Lecture 1: What is power? (FE)
Conceptions of power. Power as relational concept. The centrality of communication and culture. Cognition and persuasion. Legitimacy


  • Lamont, Michèle.1990. “The power-culture link in a comparative perspective.” Comparative Social Research, 11:131-150. ***
  • Foucault, Michel. 1983. “The Subject and Power.” In: Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Pp. 208-226. ***
  • Lukes, Steven, 2005. “Three-Dimensional Power”. In: Power. A Radical View, 2nd edition. London: Palgrave, pp. 108-151.

Additional readings

  • Ortner, Sherry B. 2006. Anthropology and Social Theory. Durham: Duke University Press. Chapter 6, pp. 129-154.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre, 1991. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity Press. Chapters 1,3,4; pp. 43-65, 107-126.
  • Mann, Michael. 1986. The Sources of Social Power, vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 1, pp 1-25.

Lecture 2: What is culture and what is its relationship to power? (WG)
How does culture influence action? Culture and domination. The debate over how binding culture is. Meaning and legitimacy. Marxian, functionalist, and Weberian theories of how culture works. Culture and resistance.


  • Williams, Raymond. 1980. "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory.” Originally published in New Left Review I/82, November-December 1973. 14 pages. Also pp. 31-49 in Problems in Materialism and Culture. London: Verso. ***
  • Sapolsky, Robert M.  2006.  “The Case of a Non-Human Primate Culture of Low Aggression and High Affiliation.”  Social Forces 85: 217-233.
  • Schudson, Michael.  1989.  “How Culture Works: Perspectives from Media Studies on the Efficacy of Symbols.” Theory and Society 18: 153 – 180.

Additional readings

  • Griswold, Wendy.  2012.  Cultures and Societies in a Changing World, 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.  Chs. 1 - 2.
  • Geertz, Clifford. (1973) 1993. “Religion as a cultural system.” In: The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. Pp.87-125. Fontana Press, 1993


Tuesday 30 July

Lecture 3: Symbolic power in micro – from the private sphere to social organization (FE)
Elementary communication. Interaction, conversation, tabooing. Social psychological preconditions for the exertion of power.
From micro to macro organization – symbols as vehicles of organization and hierarchies. Speech acts, institutionalization and power.


  • Rogers, Mary F. 1980. “Goffman on Power, Hierarchy and Status.” In: J. Ditton, ed. The View from Goffman. London: Macmillan. Pp. 100-133.
  • Collins, Randall. 2004. Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Chapters 7, pp. 258-296.
  • Searle, John, Making the Social World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 5, pp. 90-122. ***

Additional readings

  • Goffman, Erving. 1959. “Introduction”. In: The presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday. Pp. 1-16.
  • Collins, Randall. 2004. Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Chapters 2, 3.
  • Franks, David. 1989. “Power and Role Taking: A Social Behaviorist’s Synthesis of Kemper’s Power and Status Model”. In: D. Franks and E. Doyle McCarthy, eds. The Sociology of Emotions. Original Essays and Research Papers. Greenwich: JAI Press. Pp. 153-177. ***
  • Vike, Halvard. 29011.  “Cultural Models, Power, and Hegemony”. In David B. Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor C. de Munck, Michael Fischer, eds., A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lecture 4 : Identity politics (WG)
Social cognition. Schemas and resources. History and collective memory. From memory to identity to action.


  • Sewell, William. 1992. "A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation." American Journal of Sociology 98: 1-29. ***
  • Mizrachi, Nissim, Israel Drori and Renee R. Anspach.  2007.  “Repertoires of Trust: The Practice of Trust in a Multinational Organization amid Political Conflict.“  American Sociological Review 72:143–165.

Additional readings

  • Lowenthal, David. 1985. The Past Is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Zerubavel, Eviatar. 1997. Social Mindscapes. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Griswold, Wendy. 2000. Bearing Witness: Readers, Writers, and the Novel in Nigeria. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 38 – 48, 226 – 238.

Wednesday 31 July

Lecture 5: Cultural frames and social movements (WG)
Constructing social problems. The career of a problem: operatives, arenas, competition. Framing. Movements, organizations, institutions.


  • Robert D. Benford & David A. Snow. 2000. “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment.” Annual Review of Sociology 26: 611-639. ***
  • Hilgartner , Stephen and Charles L. Bosc. 1988. "The Rise and Fall of Social Problems." American Journal of Sociology 94: 53-78. ***
  • Wilde, Melissa J. 2004. "How Culture Mattered at Vatican II: Collegiality Trumps Authority in the Council's Social Movement Organizations." American Sociological Review 69: 576 - 602.

Additional readings

  • Gusfield, Joseph R. 1981. The Culture of Public Problems: Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Snow, David et al.  1986.  "Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization and Movement Participation."  American Sociological Review 51: 464-481.

Lecture 6: Power and the Public Sphere (FE)
Ideology, hegemony, value struggles. The public sphere as arena of deliberation. The significance of mass media – agenda setting, the shaping of world views. Does modernity imply the eclipse of reason?


  • Schudson, Michael. 1995. Introduction: News as Public Knowledge. In The Power of News. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Pp. 1-33. ***
  • Habermas, Jürgen. 2006. Political Communication in Media Society. Communication Theory, 16:411-426.
  • Rasmussen, Terje. 2012. Internet-based media, Europe and the political public sphere. Media, Culture & Society, 35:97-104
  • Kolb, Felix. 2005. “The Impact of Transnational Protest on Social Movement Organizations: Mass Media and the Making of ATTAC Germany.” In: Donatella della Porta and Sidney Tarrow, eds. Transnational Protest & Global Activism. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. Pp. 95-120

Additional readings

  • Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. The Study of Philosophy: Some Preliminary Points of Reference. In Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Edited by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Pp. 323-343. ***
  • McCombs, Maxwell E. and Donald L. Shaw. 1972. “The Agenda Setting Function of Mass Media.” Public Opinion Quarterly, 36:176-187.
  • Thompson, John B. 2003. Political Scandal. Power and Visibility in the Media Age. Cambridge: Polity Press. Chapters 1 and 4, pp. 1-30, 90-118.
  • Della Porta, Donatella, Massimilliano Andretta, Lorenzo Mosca, Herbert Reiter. 2006. Globalization from Below. Transnational Activists and Protest Networks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Chapter 3, pp. 61- 91.

Thursday 1 August

Lecture 7: Nations and communities (WG)
Imagined communities. Nationalism. Multiculturalism. Writers and artists as nation builders. Cultures in conflict in the nation-state: (1) State versus market. (2) Nation versus community.


  • Eglitis, Daina Stukuls. 2002. Imagining the Nation: History, Modernity, and Revolution in Latvia. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Pp. 1 – 21. ***
  • Ren Xuefei.  2008. “Forward to the Past: Historical Preservation in Globalizing Shanghai.” City and Community 7: 23 – 43.
  • Abbas, Ackbar.  2000.  “Cosmopolitan De-Scriptions: Shanghai and Hongkong.”  Public Culture 12: 769 – 786.

Additional readings

  • Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised ed. London & New York: Verso.
  • Hobsbawm, Eric and Terence Ranger. 1983. The invention of tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 7: "Mass producing traditions: Europe 1870-1914". Pp. 263-308.

Lecture 8: Art and Power.  Elements of communication (FE)
Institutional and communicative aspects of power in the arts. Changing codes and frames of interpretation. Power of the artist. “Power” of the art work? Transposition of aesthetical effects. Varieties of reception.


  • Engelstad, Fredrik. 2003. “National Literature, Collective Identity and Political Power.” Comparative Social Research. 21: 111- 145.
  • Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency. Chapters 1 and 2. Oxford: Claredon, pp. 1-27.
  • Gilmore, Samuel. 1990. Art Worlds: Developing the Interactionist Approach to Social Organization. In Michael McCall and Howard Becker, eds., Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Additional readings:

  • Hall, Stuart. 1974 [1993]. Encoding, decoding. In Simon During, ed.The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
  • Latour, Bruno. 1999. Pandora’s Hope. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 174-190
  • Panofsky, Erwin. 1955. Iconography and Iconology. In Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Griswold, Wendy. 1987. A Methodological Framework for the Sociology of Culture. Sociological Methodology, 17:1-36.

Friday 2 August

Lecture 9: Micro mobilization of political symbols (FE)
Presentation of self in everyday politics. Organization and social appeal. Varieties of charismatic power in modern democracies.


  • Auslander, Leora. 1996. Taste and Power. Furnishing Modern France. Chapter 1, pp. 29-74. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Daloz, Jean-Pascal. 2003. Ostentation in Comparative Perspective: Culture and Elite Legitimation. Comparative Social Research, 21: 29-62. ***
  • Krogstad, Anne and Aagoth Storvik. 2006. “Seductive Heroes and Ordinary Human Beings.” Comparative Social Research, 23: 211-245. ***

Additional readings

  • Krogstad, Anne and Kirsten Gomard. 2003. Instead of the ideal debate. Doing politics and doing gender in Nordic political campaign discourse. Århus: Aarhus University Press

Lecture 10: Rituals, spectacles, and the aesthetics of power (WG)
Power embodied. Power performed: Rituals, language, displays of power. The paradox of resistance through enactment.


  • Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta. 1997. Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini's Italy. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 15 – 41, 89 – 118. ***
  • Griswold, Wendy.  2013.  “The Kano Durbar: Political Spectacle in the Bowel of the Elephant.”  American Journal of Cultural Sociology 1: 1 – 27.

Additional readings

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2004. “Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance Between Ritual and Strategy.” Sociological Theory 22: 527-573.
  • Straughn, Jeremy Brooke. 2005. “Taking the State at Its Word”: The Arts of Consentful Contention in the German Democratic Republic.” American Journal of Sociology 110: 1598-1650.

The lecturers
Wendy Griswold is Professor of Sociology, Comparative Literary Studies, and English at Northwestern University. Professor Griswold holds a Ph.D. from Harvard (1980) and has previously taught there and at the University of Chicago. Her research and teaching interests center on cultural sociology; sociological approaches to literature, art and religion; time and place; and comparative studies in Europe and Africa. Recent books include Bearing Witness: Readers, Writers, and The Novel in Nigeria (Princeton UP, 2000), Cultures and Societies in a Changing World, 4th ed (Sage 2012), and Regionalism and the Reading Class (Chicago UP 2008).

Fredrik Engelstad is professor of sociology at the University of Oslo and former director of the Institute for Social Research in Oslo. His academic publications range from labor market studies, the social psychology of family relations to studies in literary theory. His publications on power include "Hva er makt" (What is Power, 2005) and "Maktens uttrykk" (Expressions of Power, 2010). He also published Places within, places beyond: Norwegian regionalism in literature (co-edited with Wendy Griswold, Oslo 1996), and he is the series editor of Comparative Social Research. In the period 1998-2003 he was a member of the core group of the Norwegian Power and Democracy Study 1998-2003.


Tags: Culture, Social Power, Sociology, Summer School, PhD, Oslo, Norway
Published Dec. 12, 2012 12:11 PM - Last modified Sep. 22, 2015 12:46 PM