Symbolic interaction is the Reality in Which we Act



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  • Politics functions , in part, by controlling the symbolic containers, providing MEANING to events

Symbolic interaction is the Reality in Which we Act

  • What is Government?
  • What is Democracy
  • What is Freedom?
  • What is Nation Building?

Point of View

  • Not a Political Science point of view
    • structure of institutions, e.g. parties,
    • tactics, strategies, socialization, etc..
  • Not a Sociological point of view
  • Not a Psychological point of view
    • motives, drives, traits, as determinate
  • Rather a Symbolic/Communicative approach

Politics as Ritual

  • “Politics in America is the binding secular religion.” Theodore White, Historian/Journalist
  • “A National Campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism (the convention) and a couple of hangings thrown in. It is better, even than war.” H. L. Mencken
  • People Symbolically involved in a common enterprise: voting, inaugurations, debates, conventions, collective grieving

Politics is quintessentially a language game. Political campaigns consist primarily of talk--the challenger for a political office can do very little but talk. And once elected, talk will be a major concern of any politician.

  • Politics is quintessentially a language game. Political campaigns consist primarily of talk--the challenger for a political office can do very little but talk. And once elected, talk will be a major concern of any politician.
  • Michael Geis
  • If there is no conflict over meaning, the issue is not political, by definition.
  • Murray Edelman

It is language about political events and developments that people experience; even events that they are close to take their meaning from the language used to depict them. So political language is political reality; there is no other so far as the meaning of events to actor and spectators is concerned. Edelman, Constructing the Political Spectacle

  • It is language about political events and developments that people experience; even events that they are close to take their meaning from the language used to depict them. So political language is political reality; there is no other so far as the meaning of events to actor and spectators is concerned. Edelman, Constructing the Political Spectacle

It is not "reality"' in any testable or observable sense that matters in shaping political consciousness and behavior, but rather the beliefs that language helps evoke about the causes of discontents and satisfactions. Edelman

  • It is not "reality"' in any testable or observable sense that matters in shaping political consciousness and behavior, but rather the beliefs that language helps evoke about the causes of discontents and satisfactions. Edelman

Language is only one aspect of the material situation; but a critical one: the aspect that most directly interprets developments by fitting them into a narrative account that provides a meaning for the past, the present, and the future compatible with an audience's ideology. Edelman

  • Language is only one aspect of the material situation; but a critical one: the aspect that most directly interprets developments by fitting them into a narrative account that provides a meaning for the past, the present, and the future compatible with an audience's ideology. Edelman

. . .[T]here is an important sense in which language constructs the people who use it, a view manifestly in contrast with the commonsensical assumption that people construct the language they use. For every political problem and ideological dilemma there is a set of statements and expressions constantly in use. In accepting one or another of these a person becomes a particular kind of subject with a particular ideology, role, and self conception: a liberal or a conservative, a victim of authority or a supporter of authority, an activist or a spectator, and so on. Edelman

  • . . .[T]here is an important sense in which language constructs the people who use it, a view manifestly in contrast with the commonsensical assumption that people construct the language they use. For every political problem and ideological dilemma there is a set of statements and expressions constantly in use. In accepting one or another of these a person becomes a particular kind of subject with a particular ideology, role, and self conception: a liberal or a conservative, a victim of authority or a supporter of authority, an activist or a spectator, and so on. Edelman

“Liberty”

  • . . .[L]anguage offers a logic to defend any position regardless of contradictions, and it does so subtly. In the domain of political language there are many mansions, and they often defy the laws of physics by occupying the same semantic space. i.e. "True Freedom" Edelman

Rhetorical Fictions

    • Real Fictions combining matters of faith & fact.
        • Advise with regard to public conduct
        • Want no suspension of disbelief; yet, they do not anticipate acceptance as immutable truths
    • Related terms:
      • “Persona,” “fantasy theme,” “rhetorical vision,” “social reality,” “political myth,” “ideology”
      • Symbolic in nature, have rhetorical force, inherently dramatic,intersubjectively constructed meanings,
      • Ethos: “The key to the ethos of Presidents is their conception of their relationship to the people, for in this conception lies their image of themselves and the role of the Presidency.
      • Images of the President are:
          • (1) Symbolic
          • (2) Not only depict the president, they also imply an image of us
          • (3) We respond to the implied image of us in relations to our self-concept, and
          • (4) the degree to which the implied image and self-concept correspond determines the degree to which we will be believe and follow the president.

POLITICS AS MYTHS

  • “The Founding Fathers”
  • “The American Dream”
  • “Free-enterprise”
  • “Wisdom of the Common Man”

Kenneth Burke

  • THE SYMBOL USING (SYMBOL-MAKING, SYMBOL-MISUSING) ANIMAL
  • INVENTOR OF THE NEGATIVE (OR MORALIZED BY THE NEGATIVE)
  • SEPARATED FROM HIS NATURAL CONDITION BY INSTRUMENTS OF HIS OWN MAKING
  • GOADED BY THE SPIRIT OF HIERARCHY (OR MOVED BY THE SENSE OF ORDER)
  • AND ROTTEN WITH PERFECTION
  • “Definition of Man” in Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method

Dramatistic Perspective

  • Inherent to symbolic life is tension between identification & division.
  • Identification. consubstantiation--become the other symbolically
  • Naming - is inherently rhetorical
  • Motive toward perfection, order, hierarchy
  • The “Negative” invokes a moralistic world,
  • People are “Rotten with perfection”: Piety, Guilt, Redemption, Victimage, Salvation

“What must be made absolutely clear … is that politics is not somehow unreal or false because it is freighted with symbols and visualized in images. We cannot somehow dismiss showmanship, political ritual, speeches, and televised debates as ‘mere politics.’ Politics, after all, is a human or social activity.” Arthur Miller & Bruce Gronbeck, 1994.

  • “What must be made absolutely clear … is that politics is not somehow unreal or false because it is freighted with symbols and visualized in images. We cannot somehow dismiss showmanship, political ritual, speeches, and televised debates as ‘mere politics.’ Politics, after all, is a human or social activity.” Arthur Miller & Bruce Gronbeck, 1994.


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