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Performance and Power

ISBN: 978-0-7456-4817-0
232 pages
November 2011, Polity
Performance and Power (0745648177) cover image
Performativity has emerged as a critical new idea across the humanities and social sciences, from literary and cultural studies to the study of gender and the philosophy of action. In this volume, Jeffrey Alexander demonstrates how performance can reorient our study of politics and society.

Alexander develops a cultural pragmatics that shifts cultural sociology from texts to gestural meanings. Positioning social performance between ritual and strategy, he lays out the elements of social performance - from scripts to mise-en-scène, from critical mediation to audience reception - and systematically describes their tense interrelation. This is followed by a series of empirically oriented studies that demonstrate how cultural pragmatics transforms our approach to power.

Alexander brings his new theory of social performance to bear on case studies that range from political to cultural power: Barack Obama's electoral campaign, American failure in the Iraqi war, the triumph of the Civil Rights Movement, terrorist violence on September 11th, public intellectuals, material icons, and social science itself.

This path-breaking work by one of the world's leading social theorists will command a wide interdisciplinary readership.
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Preface and Acknowledgements.

Introduction.

A Cultural Theory of Social Performance.

Chapter 1 The Cultural Pragmatics of Symbolic Action (with Jason Mast).

Chapter 2 Social Performance between Ritual and Strategy
Political Power and Performance.

Chapter 3 Performance and the Challenge of Power.

Chapter 4 Social, Political, Cultural, and Performative.

Chapter 5 Democratic Power and Political Performance: Obama v. McCain.

Chapter 6 A Presidential Performance, Panned, or Obama as the Last Enlightenment Man.

Chapter 7 Performing Counter-Power: The Civil Rights Movement.

Chapter 8 Performing Terror on September 11th.

Chapter 9 War and Performance: Afghanistan and Iraq.

Cultural Power and Performance.

Chapter 10 Intellectuals and Public Performance.

Chapter 11 Iconic Power and Performativity: The Role of the Critic.

Notes.

Bibliography.

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Jeffrey C. Alexander is Professor of Sociology at Yale University.
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  • This is a new study of the relationship between performance and power from one of the world’s leading social theorists
  • In this volume, Jeffrey Alexander develops a cultural pragmatics that shifts cultural sociology from texts to gestural meanings and examines the elements of social performance.
  • He illustrates this new theory with case studies including Barack Obama’s electoral campaign, terrorist violence on September 11th and material icons.
  • This compelling volume will appeal to graduate students and academics in sociology, politics, media and cultural studies.
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"This books shatters the ossified categories of all prior comparative studies of culture and power. Alexander reinvents the centerpiece of contemporary critical theories: performativity as the locus of power. Neither the modern state nor secularism but transformation in dramaturgy itself froms the axis of his new global history of civilizations. Accessible artistry."
Richard Biernacki, University of California, San Diego

"That so much of politics is symbolic - terrorism as much as presidential campaigning - is the first surprise of this wide-ranging and wonderfully provocative book. The second surprise, though, is what makes the book so compelling: success in symbolic politics, Alexander argues, depends on performances that fuse speaker, audience, props, and script - a fusion that is increasingly rare in modern societies, and is simultaneously longed for and distrusted. With his customary brio and command of literatures ranging from ancient dramaturgy to contemporary terrorism, Alexander offers a provocative theory of modern politics."
Francesca Polletta, University of California, Irvine

"In this boundary-shifting and provocative book, Alexander brings performance studies into conversation with sociology in ways that challenge both. This is essential reading for anyone interested in these fields as well as for those who wonder how performance endows social actors with such persuasive power."
Diana Taylor, New York University

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