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Symbolic Politics

Ulrich Sarcinelli

Subject Politics
Communication Reception and Effects » Communication, Politics and Elections

Key-Topics symbolism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


In habitual language use, symbolic politics means a publicly displayed deception or surrogate action that is used to detract from actual political reality. In this sense symbolic politics is considered to be a surrogate for politics. Symbolic politics differs from substantial policy. As a policy of →  signs (terms and slogans, badges, banners and pictures, gestures, ritual acts, and political staging), symbolic politics evolves in a semantic field. Substantial policy, by contrast, consists of a revisable succession of political decisions (e.g., legislation, contracts, taxes, etc.). Symbolic politics and substantial policy can be related to each other. On the one hand, symbolic politics can have an impact on substantial policy. On the other hand, substantial Policy can be communicated, implemented, or averted by symbolic politics. The negative connotation of symbolic politics, which is meanwhile consolidated in public opinion, does not correspond to the more sophisticated view of symbolic politics in →  cultural studies and social sciences, for symbolic politics in a broader sense also means the strategic use of signs to meet society's requirements of political orientation. Attention may be attracted; willingness for political action, loyalty, or protest may be shown by symbolic politics. In the process, the symbolic worth of signs is converted into political power. Symbolic politics ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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