Accepted Paper:

American conservatism and the status of political belief  

Author:

Erik Nilsson (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

American conservatism has gone through profound changes in recent decades. This presentation explores some of the ways in which influential conservative themes put people into motion politically. It also deals with the problems these modes of motion pose for anthropological inquiry.

Paper long abstract:

Recent decades have seen substantial changes in the political landscape of the United States. Accelerating political polarization along social and demographic lines, sometimes popularized as "culture wars", has coincided with a general movement to the right of the preferences of the electorate. A partly novel ideological configuration, encompassing facets of evangelical Christianity, expansionist foreign policy and particular forms of neoliberalism, has proved especially powerful in animating these transformations. This presentation explores some of the ways in which such influential conservative themes put people into motion politically. Based on fieldwork among conservative voters, activists and representatives in a small town in northwestern Ohio, it also deals with the problems these modes of motion potentially pose for anthropological inquiry. More specifically, at a time and place where stereotypes and realities seem destined to blur, how might anthropology productively engage with these political forms without reproducing polarities that are partly constitutive of them? Highlighting some of the displacements and tensions in everyday "conservative talk" I suggest we read the political thrust of contemporary conservatism primarily from the perspective of the existential work it is employed to perform by specific people in specific circumstances. In relation to this work the positive content of ideology - be it faith in God, in the transformative power of the market, in the nation or in the President - thus retains something of a secondary status.

Panel W119
Anthropologists from abroad study mainstream American culture (MAC workshop I)