Body002
Gesturing toward utopia: the politics of exemplarity

Convenors:
Dorothy Noyes (Ohio State University)
Stream:
Body/Embodiment
Location:
A209
Start time:
22 June, 2015 at 10:30
Session slots:
2

Short abstract:

Considers the practice of exemplarity: the attempt, through a striking and visible virtuous act, to excite emulation, inaugurate a phase shift in social norms, and shift public opinion toward institutional change. What felicity conditions distinguish "empty gestures" from transformative ones?

Long abstract:

This panel considers the practice of exemplarity: the attempt, through a striking and visible act, to excite emulation, inaugurate a phase shift in social norms, and shift public opinion toward institutional change. What felicity conditions distinguish "empty gestures" from transformative ones? Certain well-designed symbolic actions from the twentieth century became icons for political watersheds. When the American Civil Rights movement is spoken of, people remember Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of a Montgomery bus. Willy Brandt's fall to his knees before the Warsaw Ghetto memorial is recalled as the decisive turn toward the German reckoning with the Nazi past. Both the activist leading from below and the self-humbling leader demanded public attention, excited a wide range of responses, and lent themselves to the narration of change. In today's saturated media environment it is difficult to imagine influence on such a scale, and perhaps gestures are transformative only in retrospect. Nonetheless, the concepts of "leading by example," "setting an example," and the negative "making an example of," along with "role models" and other related ideas, continue to inform global public life across the political spectrum, from reactionary to revolutionary. To follow an example is more than to forward a meme or even to join in a crowd: it is an active investment of body and self. What makes exemplarity different from ordinary social reproduction and transmission? What kinds and conditions of exemplary performance foster mimesis? What sustains exemplarity as strategy and ideal, given its usual failure in practice?