Author: Francesca Polletta
Date Released: 2006
Page Count: 256
Isbn10 Code: 0226673758
Isbn13 Code: 9780226673752
Review “In this wonderful book, Francesca Polletta helps put definitively to rest the notion that narratives are little more than ‘just so’ stories. Their causal power, particularly in the production of social change, comes through bright and clear. Polletta goes a long way toward developing just the kind of disciplined sociology of discursive forms that is needed at the present juncture. It was Like a Fever will be of lasting importance to cultural analysts of various ilk in the social sciences and the humanities."--Michèle Lamont, Harvard University (Michele Lamont ) "For anyone interested in cultural sociology, social movements, political sociology, and the sociology of the media, this study of the political potential and constraints of storytelling is a must read." (Victoria Johnson Mobilization ) "Through a better understanding of the epistemology of storytelling, Polletta moves beyond functional and textual analysis to understand the belief systems that shape use and interpretation. An interesting and very accessible book." (Lisa Rathje Journal of Folklore Research ) "Polletta breaks newer ground in showing how the ambviguity of some stories and their rhetorical treatment can generate interpretive possibilities that can suit a variety of agendas." (Wendy Griswold Political Science Quarterly ) From the Inside Flap Activists and politicians have long recognized the power of a good story to move people to action. In early 1960 four black college students sat down at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and refused to leave. Within a month sit-ins spread to thirty cities in seven states. Student participants told stories of impulsive, spontaneous action—this despite all the planning that had gone into the sit-ins. “It was like a fever,” they said.Francesca Polletta’s It Was Like a Fever sets out to account for the power of storytelling in mobilizing political and social movements. Drawing on cases ranging from sixteenth-century tax revolts to contemporary debates about the future of the World Trade Center site, Polletta argues that stories are politically effective not when they have clear moral messages, but when they have complex, often ambiguous ones. The openness of stories to interpretation has allowed disadvantaged groups, in particular, to gain a hearing for new needs and to forge surprising political alliances. But popular beliefs in America about storytelling as a genre have also hurt those challenging the status quo. Personal stories are seen as authentic and normatively powerful, but also as deceptive, subjective, and politically unserious—especially when they are told by disadvantaged groups about matters of political consequence. A rich analysis of storytelling in courtrooms, newsrooms, public forums, and the United States Congress, It Was Like a Fever offers provocative new insights into the dynamics of culture and contention.
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