Culture and Political Subjectivities

May 28-31, 2015
Columbia University
New York City, NY

Organized by Claudia Strauss and Jack Friedman

“Culture and Political Subjectivities” will be a two and a half day workshop on anthropological approaches to political subjectivities. “Political subjectivities” are thoughts, feelings, motivations, identities, and memories, not just about electoral politics, but more broadly regarding public policy and disputes over the social distribution of power, status, and economic rewards. While many anthropologists have studied these topics, this workshop is unusual in bringing together psychological anthropologists and interlocutors in related fields who are concerned with complexities in the social and psychological processes by which political subjectivities are formed in cultural contexts. Workshop participants have been examining the formation of political subjectivities through ethnographic research on topics such as skepticism about the science of climate change in Oklahoma, Israeli soldiers’ changing moral positions about their actions in the Occupied Territories, the personal projects of local Tea Party leaders, precursors to conversion to Salafi forms of Islam in northern Nigeria, xenophobia in Scandinavia, the political outlooks of the long-term unemployed in the United States, the development of Rastafarian political identities in Jamaica, and how middle-class transsexuals in India decide to become public activists.

This workshop will be focused around three general thematic topics that will leverage the different theoretical, analytical, methodological, and ethnographic/regional specialties represented by our invited workshop participants. These topics encompass three, broad sets of questions:

  1. What is the relation between publicly expressed political discourses, on the one hand, and personal experiences, affects, or understandings, on the other? Are there any gaps or disjunctures between collective political ideologies and individuals’ ways of making sense of political disputes?
  2. What are different forms of political consciousness? What sorts of conflicts are there between explicit identities and outlooks, on the one hand, and tacit or unconscious or embodied ones, on the other?
  3. What leads people to join social movements and form senses of themselves as movement actors? How do their personal experiences, affective commitments, and social networks affect the specific nature of their activism?

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