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The Politics of Elite Culture

Explorations in the Dramaturgy of Power in a Modern African Society

Abner Cohen

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University of California Press img Link Publisher

Geisteswissenschaften, Kunst, Musik / Pädagogik


This title focuses on the dramatic process underlying the development of cultural mystique in the articulation of elite organization. The symbolic beliefs and practices involved act to reconcile, camouflage, or mystify a major contradiction in the development and functioning of elite groups, a contradiction between their universalistic functions and particularistic interests, between their duties to serve wider publics and their simultaneous endeavor to promote their own sectional power. Concentrating on the detailed, experimental study of one power elite within a modern small-scale nation-state--Sierra Leone--Cohen analyzes these processes. But his findings are systematically worked out within a general, cross-cultural comparative perspective, and he thereby further develops his earlier formulations about the instrumental functions of culture in politcal organization. Culture is analyzed in terms of symbolic forms, symbolic functions, and dramaturgical techniques. Politico-cultural causation is explored as it operates in chains of dramatic performances on different levels of social organization. Familiar, everyday symbolic events are taken out of their ordinary ideological sequences and, as Brecht would put it, thrown into crisis by showing their involvement in major power struggles. This title is part of UC Press's Voices Revived program, which commemorates University of California Press's mission to seek out and cultivate the brightest minds and give them voice, reach, and impact. Drawing on a backlist dating to 1893, Voices Revived makes high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarship accessible once again using print-on-demand technology. This title was originally published in 1981. 

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