[URBANTH-L]CFP for AAA: Session on Political Charisma

Erick Castellanos ecastellanos at gmail.com
Mon Mar 16 14:41:52 EDT 2009

Political Charisma
DRAFT Proposed panel for the ’09 AAA, Philadelphia

Charisma plays a crucial role in the political arena, both as vehicle
for success and as a catalyst for change.  Political leaders, both
historical and contemporary, have often relied on and been defined by
their charisma.  Throughout political history, these charismatic
figures have often been associated with changes and upheavals in
national, political, and social systems.
Despite its centrality in the manner in which political power is
attained and consolidated, little research has been done to explore
exactly what charisma means and its implications a deciding factor in
political affairs that affect systems and lives.  Given the emotional
and often seemingly illogical nature of charisma, many render it a
meaningless term that is useless for analysis.  This perspective may
hold sway in social scientific approaches that strongly rely on a
rational actor model to describe and understand political phenomena.
However, anthropology can offer a unique contribution in understanding
the relationship between charisma and the political arena. Lindholm
(2002) explains, “Understanding charisma thus implies studying not
only the character of the charismatic and the attributes that make any
particular individual susceptible to the charismatic appeal, but an
analysis as well as of the dynamic of the charismatic groups itself in
which the leader and follower interact.”  Anthropology is in a unique
position to study these dynamics over time, and in both global and
local contexts.

The rapid and successful rise of Barak Obama to the U.S. Presidency is
an example of how charisma can help transcend social barriers and
normative expectations surrounding social background, ethnicity,
and/or gender.  In other situations, leaders use charisma to
perpetuate dictatorships or theocracies (North Korea, Iran), or to
perpetuate particular political and revolutionary ideologies, in spite
of global isolation (Cuba, Venezuela).  Finally, some leaders use
personal and family charisma to capture the imagination of the
population and re-energize political life (Sarkozy and Carla Bruni of
France, the Obama family).  These leaders also harness the power of
political symbols, in some cases actually becoming the symbols
themselves.  Thus, symbolism, ritual, and charismatic leadership can
combine to consolidate political power and influence or to set the
political agenda.

Descriptions of charismatic leaders often include their ability to
inspire, project a hypnotic message, and instill a sense of love among
followers.  In extreme cases, they may be seen as a god on earth, and
followers can be so devoted to their leader that they are prepared to
do anything he or she commands. But these same sorts of processes are
present, if not so apparent, within everyday political life, where
people may feel a sense of admiration or trust for a leader, that
influences their opinions of the decisions he or she has made.
Charisma underlies both the revolutionary and the everyday, exerting
its power in pervasive yet often unrecognized ways.

We are looking for papers that examine political charisma in both
global and local situations, in arenas large and small.  Whether they
be secular, or explicit combinations of the religious & the political,
this panel seeks to examine political charisma, leaders, followers,
and their impact on social and political spheres.

Please submit abstracts to both:
Sara Bergstresser sbergstresser at nki.rfmh.org
Erick Castellanos ecastellanos at gmail.com

Erick Castellanos, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of International Studies and Anthropology
School of American and International Studies
Ramapo College of New Jersey
505 Ramapo Valley Road
Mahwah, NJ 07408


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