Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2007


Culture and Social Power

Lecturers: Professor Wendy Griswold, Northwestern University, Evanston, USA
& Professor Fredrik Engelstad, Institute for Social Research, Oslo, Norway

Main discipline: Sociology

Dates: 30 July - 3 August 2007
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants


Objectives
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.

 

COURSE OUTLINE

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 andvance of the course.

FE - Fredrik Engelstad
WG - Wendy Griswold


Monday 30 July

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

Readings

Additional readings


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.

Readings


Tuesday 31 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.

Readings:

Additional readings

 


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

Readings

Additional readings


Wednesday 1 August

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

Readings

Additional readings

 


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?

Readings

Additional readings


Thursday 2 August

Lecture 7: Rituals, spectacles, and the aesthetics of power (WG)
Power embodied. Power performed: Rituals, language, displays of power. The paradox of resistance through enactment.

Readings

Additional readings


Lecture 8: 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.

Readings

Additional readings:
• Buruma, Ian. 2006. Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance. New York: Penguin Press.
• 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.

 


Friday 3 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.

Readings:

Additional readings


Lecture 10: Transnational circuits (FE)
The diffusion of transnational culture “from above”, through finance, media, branding of consumption goods. Political responses “from below”: Internationalization of popular protest movements. Towards a global civil society?

Readings:

Additional readings


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.