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Political Symbols

Sharon E. Jarvis


Political symbols are entities that stand for things other than themselves, elicit responses, and assume meaning in relation to the objects, beliefs, values, or attitudes to which they refer. In the field of political science, symbols have been studied from two key approaches. Behavioralist scholars have examined the functions of symbols, tracked their appearance across political messages and situations, and made connections between symbol use and attitudinal or behavioral effects. This perspective often regards symbols as separate from the world of politics, or as entities that mask the realities of political life. Interpretivist scholars, in contrast, have studied how symbols are open to interpretation, how individuals use – and are used by – them, and how symbols may not reflect empirical realities (and yet their constructed meanings are powerful, nonetheless). This perspective contends that because citizens rarely have the opportunity to experience political phenomena (e.g., campaign speeches, governmental meetings, policy debates, and other elite activities), they come to know their worlds through symbols and language. Symbols have also been studied from processual, structuralist, and postmodern approaches in neighboring disciplines such as communication, anthropology, and sociology (→  Structuralism ; Postmodernism and Communication ). Most contemporary research on political ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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