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“Nationalism, Sentimentality, and Judgment”

Lisa Wedeen
Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

“Nationalism, Sentimentality, and Judgment” focuses on the various efforts undertaken by the regime and multiple oppositions to activate people’s affective attachments ideologically. Putting theorists of melodrama, sentimentality, and affect into conversation with political philosophers of judgment, this paper looks explicitly at the fantasies of repair nationalist rhetoric evokes, the communities of empathic recognition nationalist fantasies define, and the conundrums that arise for political reflection from taking refuge in the sentimental. The paper ends with a consideration of work by Syrian artists, some newcomers to the field such as Khaled Abdul Wahed and Ziad Kalthum, but also the prominent filmmaker Usama Muhammad from an earlier generation. The attempts to achieve alterity examined here speak to the libidinal and epistemic seductions of national belonging; the familiar temptation to cultivate empathy by representing suffering others; the creative potential and difficulties involved in instantiating alternative visions; the varying intensities of affective investment in nationalism, human rights discourses, and revolutionary change; and the necessarily fragmented way in which ideological recruitment works. 

Lisa Wedeen is the Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and the College and the Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory at the University of Chicago. Her publications include Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (1999); "Conceptualizing 'Culture': Possibilities for Political Science" (2002); "Concepts and Commitments in the Study of Democracy" (2004), Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power and Performance in Yemen (2008), "Ethnography as an Interpretive Enterprise" (2009), "Reflections on Ethnographic Work in Political Science" (2010), and "Ideology and Humor in Dark Times: Notes from Syria" (2013). She is the recipient of the David Collier Mid-Career Achievement Award and an NSF fellowship. She is currently working on a book about ideology, neoliberal autocracy, and generational change in present-day Syria.

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