Deep Stories, Emotional Agendas and Politics

Aug 27, 2015

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I begin with a paradox. In the United States, as in Europe, the gap between rich and poor has recently widened. At the same time, right-wing groups have risen for whom such a gap poses no problem at all. Based on new fieldwork on the U.S. Tea Party (approved by some 20% -30% of Americans) I ask: what emotional needs does such a movement meet? More basically, how does emotion underlie political belief? In answer I propose the concept of a deep story. It’s an allegorical, collectively shared, honor-focused, “feels-as-if” story. A man is standing in line for a ticket he feels he greatly deserves and which confers honor. At the front of the line is another man behind a dark glass window handing out tickets. In front and in back are others in line. To the side, is an official supervisor of the line. Then some people “cut into” the front of the line, and the story moves from there. Tickets are for the American Dream. The supervisor is the American president, and a rumor is flying that tickets are running out. They – and all of us -- see through allegory. And once established, we protect it by pursuing an emotional agenda. This determines what a person wants to feel and know. Liberals have a deep story too. Each story – that of conservative and liberal -- implies a strategy of action for addressing global capitalism, and the frightening idea that American –and European --dominance and prosperity may be a “prophecy that fails.” The idea of “deep stories” may help us communicate across a widening political divide and address the issues of difference, inequality --with imagination and compassion.

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The next ESA Conference will be held in Prague on 25-28 August 2015. The theme will be "Differences, Inequalities and the Sociological Imagination".

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