Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2005

Culture and Social Power

Lecturers: Professor Wendy Griswold, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University, Evanston, USA;
Professor Fredrik Engelstad, Institute for Social Research, Oslo, Norway

Main disciplines: Sociology, Cultura Studies

Dates: 1 - 5 August 2005
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants

Participants: Craig Albert, Alberto Jesús Alcina Salinero, Aaron Bielejewski, Inge Storgaard Bonfils, Lene Bull Christiansen, Annita Tipilda Churie, Alina Curticapean, David Doncel Abad, Kathryn Harriman, Brian Jacobsen, Vanessa Jiménez Gil, Kristina Kallas, Kadri Koreinik, Maria Kreander, Vitus Nanbigne, Eleonora Narvselius, Cristiana Paladini, Josep Vincent Penadés Aliaga, Jenny Rosenkvist, Sarah Scuzzarello, Riccardo Spadotto, Anna Spånning, Jian Ming Teng, Monica Wallmon, Senem Yildirim, Utkir Alievich Zulfikarov. Lecturers: Professor Wendy Griswold and Professor Fredrik Engelstad



Conceptions of social power have undergone significant changes during the last twenty-five years. Sensitivity to the salience of culture and communication has increased. In much of the literature these phenomena are analyzed in terms of social structure - i.e. the distribution of power resources - and their assumed effects. This course concentrates on the next step, opening the black box to understand how structures are created, and what kinds of struggles are shaping these processes. Dealing with these questions, a comparative approach helps avoiding reification in descriptions and explanatory outlines.

The first day in the course introduces basic concepts in theories of cultural dominance and resistance. With the theoretical grounding established, the next four days treat four central themes in the culture-power nexus: collective memory, nationalism, social movements, and the performance of power. Each class will consist of both lecture and group discussion. Students will prepare to discuss the readings in the packets, as well as additional materials relevant to their own interests.

Course Outline and Corresponding Readings
FE = Fredrik Engelstad lecturing
WG = Wendy Griswold lecturing

The texts marked *** is in included in the compendium to be sent to participants in advance for preparations. All other readings must be obtained by the participants themselves.

Monday sessions: What does culture do?
Power is about resources and the ability to mobilize resources to achieve goals. So what does understanding culture add to the understanding of power?

Lecture 1: Theories of cultural dominance (FE)


Lecture 2: Domination and resistance (WG)


Tuesday sessions: Collective memory
History is constructed, not given. How does collective memory - the shared construction of the past - influence contemporary political action?

Lecture 3: Memory as frame and switchman (WG)


Lecture 4: Instituting collective memory (FE)


Wednesday sessions: Nationalism
Ever since Benedict Anderson's The Imagined Community it has been common wisdom that "the nation" is a cultural object, produced by those with the power to influence other people's imaginations. But how does this work, and who gets control over the collective imagination in forming a nation?

Lecture 5: Nation building and the construction of national art institutions (FE)


Lecture 6: Deploying culture to create nationalism (WG)


Thursday sessions: Social problems and social movements
Not all social grievances turn into social movements. Both resources and ideological frames are necessary to formulate something as a social problem and to mobilize people to take action. How do activists try to bring culture and resources together, and what makes them succeed or fail?

Lecture 8: Cultural frames in movements (WG)


Lecture 9: Social movements and culture (FE)


Friday sesssions: Cultural and political power
From the world system to the nation to the group to the family, regimes use culture to implement their control and legitimate their dominance. How does cultural dominance work, and how do challengers deploy culture for oppositional ends?

Lecture 9: Culture in Politics (FE)


Lecture 10: The aesthetics of power (WG)


Topics and recommended readings to draw upon:

On symbolic power

On Culture and Politics

On Transitions

On Media and Nationalism

On Cultural Power in Institutions

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) and Cultures and Societies in a Changing World, 2nd ed (Pine Forge 2004).She is currently writing a book on cultural regionalism entitled Regionalism and the Reading Class.

Fredrik Engelstad is director of the Institute for Social Research in Oslo, and professor of sociology at the University of Oslo. His academic publications ranges from labour market studies, the social psychology of family relations to studies in literary theory. His major work is Likhet og styring (Equality and management, Oslo 1990). He also published Places within, places beyond: Norwegian regionalism in literature (co-edited with Wendy Griswold, Oslo 1996), Social Time and Social Change (co-edited with Ragnvald Kalleberg, Oslo 1998) 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.

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