Public Characters: The Politics of Reputation and Blame

ISBN : 9780190050047

James M. Jasper; Michael P. Young; Elke Zuern
328 Pages
Multiple Copy Pack
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Feb 2020
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Heroes, villains, victims, and minions are more important than ever before in our politics and culture. In the era of television, Twitter, and Facebook, groups and individuals constantly battle over their reputations. One of the best ways to gain power is to persuade others that you are competent, courageous, and benevolent, while your opponents are none of these. Thus, character work consists of more than simple claims of fact; societies build their solidarity and policies out of admiration for heroes but also outrage over villains.

Recent political analysis has ignored the great characters of the past in favor of frames, heuristics, codes, and identities. In Public Characters, James M. Jasper, Michael P. Young, and Elke Zuern argue that character, reputation, and images matter in politics, and social life more generally, as they help mobilize people and their passions. First, they focus on the political construction of openly constructed and debated public characters to show how we can allocate praise and blame, identify social problems, cement identities and allegiances, develop policies, and articulate our moral intuitions through them. The authors demonstrate the nuances of characters and their interactions across a range of sources-including Shakespeare, Game of Thrones, Renaissance sculpture, modern comic books, Alexander the Great, and Bernie Madoff-all the while showing how public characters are used in political rhetoric. Finally, they complicate these characters by considering their transformations: when victims manage to become heroes and the way traditional moral characters have evolved over time to correspond with what different cultures admire, detest, or pity.

This rich, detailed, and wide-ranging analysis of personal images and reputation marks a timely and crucial contribution for sociologists and political scientists concerned with the cultural dimensions of political life.


Preface by James M. Jasper

Introduction: Politics as Character Work

Part One: How We Imagine Characters

Chapter 1: The Art of the Word

Chapter 2: Sights and Sounds of Characters

Chapter 3: The Psychology of Creating Persons

Chapter 4: Arenas of Character Work

Part Two: The Primary Characters

Chapter 5: We Fear Villains

Chapter 6: Ridicule and Contempt for Minions

Chapter 7: We Admire Heroes

Chapter 8: We Pity Victims

Part Three: Variations and Transformations

Chapter 9: From Victims to Heroes

Chapter 10: Beyond Characters?

Conclusion: The Politics of Blame: A Dialogue

Appendix: Unsettling Humor

About the author: 

James M. Jasper divides his time between the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence. He writes about culture and politics, and his most recent books are The Emotions of Protest and Protestors and their Targets. Michael P. Young is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He writes about religion and social movements in the United States. He is the author of Bearing Witness against Sin and a forthcoming book on how DREAMers radicalized the immigrant rights movement. Elke Zuern is Professor of Politics at Sarah Lawrence College. She writes about democracy and inequality, movements and memorials, with a focus on South Africa and Namibia. She is the author of The Politics of Necessity: Community Organizing and Democracy in South Africa.

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