Slow Anti-Americanism
Social Movements and Symbolic Politics in Central Asia
Edward Schatz



Slow Anti-Americanism

CONSIDER THE USUAL METAPHORS. For some, anti-Americanism is a rising tide that inundates entire societies. For others, anti-Americanism is a conflagration that engulfs political actors. For still others, anti-Americanism is a crushing force that compels hostility to US initiatives. Emphasizing the immediate and direct power of sentiment poised against the United States, these metaphors have a certain appeal. After all, the US remains the globe’s most powerful actor. If anti-Americanism is to stand a chance against the power of the US itself—indeed, if it is to deserve our attention—it might seem to require metaphors that describe how it inundates, engulfs, or compels those in high politics.

Yet, tempting as it is to unleash such tropes, political impact comes in many forms. As the following chapters show, anti-Americanism often proceeds slowly and sometimes ambiguously. Like symbols more generally, “America” often resides quietly in the mundane before linking up with powerful social movements that amplify its importance and change the political landscape. A focus on high politics can blind us to the essential dynamics of anti-Americanism.

In this chapter, I contest approaches that privilege high politics and foreign policies. Instead, I detail what I mean by slow anti-Americanism, previewing how the Central Asian cases provide new analytic traction on a complex problem.

High Politics, Foreign Policy, and Anti-Americanism

Let us begin with a few exceptions. Sometimes, anti-Americanism does indeed seem overpowering. In the Iranian Revolution of 1979, “the Islamic Republic raised anti-Americanism to a near religion. The burning of American flags, the inflammatory rhetoric of Iran’s leaders, the mass demonstrations against the U.S., and the Hostage Crisis attest to this.”1 Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez infamously called President George W. Bush the devil at the United Nations in 2006 and on other occasions referred to him as drunk, a terrorist, genocidal, and a donkey.2 Revolutionary Iran and Bolivarian Venezuela are sites of vibrant politics where anti-Americanism plays a crucial, if not determinative, role. This role is easy to spot: it makes for high-drama TV that commands our attention.

Less dramatic but also exceptional are cases like Mexico. In an opinion poll conducted before the 2006 presidential elections, the single best predictor of a Mexican voter’s preference was how he or she evaluated Cuba’s Fidel Castro, on the one hand, and George W. Bush, on the other. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that views of the United States centrally structured the field of political relations in Mexico.3 This was not terribly surprising. Given the long US border, the complex history of close (and by no means always friendly) relations with the US, and Mexico’s then-emerging democratic institutions, Mexicans seemed likely to train their political gaze on the United States.

These instances have the virtue of being recognizable and familiar, but if we consider a broader range of cases, from Europe to Latin America to Asia, rarely do views about the United States have an immediately discernable impact on political outcomes.4 Indeed, when one examines ordinary cases, it can appear that anti-Americanism packs no political punch. As Peter Katzenstein and Robert Keohane conclude:

In view of the attention that anti-Americanism has received in the media and by politicians, it is surprising how little hard evidence can be found . . . that anti-American opinion has had serious direct and immediate consequences for the United States on issues affecting broad US policy objectives.5

Theirs is a high standard. One would be hard-pressed to find any societal phenomenon that generates consequences that are “serious,” “direct,” and “immediate” for “broad US policy objectives.” But if we focus less on their standard and more on their logic, do they have a point?

At root, Katzenstein and Keohane’s idea is that popular anti-Americanism influences policy when two conditions are met: (1) a regime is willing to endure the costs of alienating in the United States, and (2) anti-American opinion flows unimpeded into the policy process. They consider evidence from quasi-democratic Turkey and democratic Germany and Canada, where, according to their logic, the impact of anti-Americanism on high politics should be most pronounced. Finding no definitive proof of anti-Americanism’s independent and systematic impact, Katzenstein and Keohane therefore conclude that the “burden of proof” shifts “toward those who believe that anti-Americanism is having major effects.”6

In two senses, their logic is persuasive. First, it is a fact that few states embrace the costs of alienating the United States. For every Hugo Chávez of Venezuela or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran who in the 2000s verbally attacked the United States in no uncertain terms, there are hundreds of other world leaders who—whatever their innermost preferences might be—are more risk averse. The hesitation of the leaders of Canada, France, and Germany to push back against the anti-NATO rhetoric of President Trump in 2018 was a visible manifestation of a common reluctance to anger the United States. More typically, such hesitation is not televised.

Second, anti-American public opinion may raise the cost of cooperating with the US, but by how much? Rising (or falling) anti-US sentiment is probably more like other dimensions of public opinion: its impact on policy is highly mediated and indirect. In democracies, publics historically tend to defer to their elected representatives on matters of foreign affairs, even while they demand regular input into matters of domestic policy.7 Publics in nondemocratic contexts have even less influence. Indeed, in places as diverse as Canada, France, and Saudi Arabia the impact of public opinion depends upon the specific social institutions and communication channels available for influencing policymakers. Even in Latin America, where anti-American popular sentiment has at times percolated into palpable policy change, its influence faded. As Alan McPherson writes, “By the late 1960s . . . [elites] had virtually ceased trying to make anti-U.S. speeches or devise anti-U.S. policies, lest they alienate Washington, their only supporter in the hemisphere.”8

How far does a high-politics approach get us? First, it is worth underscoring that the “costs” of alienating the United States are ever-changing. If the global shift to multiple centers of economic activity means anything, it means a multiplication of possible economic and political relationships. Alternatives to the United States exist. Even if in some places and times the US remains the most attractive option, America is far from being “the indispensable nation.”9 It remains costly to turn against the United States, but doing so becomes thinkable.10

Second, the double-barreled assumption that under democracy, opinion flows unimpeded into the policy process, and under authoritarianism, such opinion is blocked from doing so may not be sustainable. As increasingly sophisticated work on authoritarianism makes clear,11 nondemocratic regimes may be influenced by societal pressure, even if this pressure is indirect or not particularly welcome; any political system that fails to heed the interests of key stakeholders relies increasingly on coercion and fear—itself a costly proposition. The rapidity of political change that emerged with the Arab uprisings reminds us that a vibrant politics occurs behind the scenes of regimes that only seem to be unchanging.12 Moreover, the widespread use of social media allows for forms of coordination and communication with the public that provide for unusual policymaking opportunities, whether political institutions are democratic or authoritarian.

In short, just because anti-Americanism does not have an easily discernible and immediate effect on high politics does not mean that it is toothless. Katzenstein and Keohane admit as much: “The fact that accurate predictions about the long-term, indirect effects of anti-Americanism are difficult in no way undermines their substantive importance for U.S. foreign policy and world politics.”13 It is precisely this longer-term and indirect path that the following chapters address. As the Central Asian examples demonstrate, any understanding of the phenomenon requires a long time-horizon and close attention to ground-level processes.

The Power of Symbolic Politics

If anti-Americanism is not a rising tide, a conflagration, or an overwhelming force, what is it? Below I will argue that “America” is a symbol, and that anti-Americanism is a pronounced tendency to deploy negative evaluations of symbolic America in social and political life. Let me first clear some conceptual brush by briefly considering two related perspectives.

Perhaps anti-Americanism is a matter of the mind, a “psychological tendency to hold negative views of the United States and of American society in general.”14 Such an approach can usefully move us away from high politics, but ultimately, pinning our hopes on psychology creates problems. In this approach, “the further one moves from pro to anti, the more one works on the register of affect rather than reason. That is, systematic bias takes over from distrust or simple opinion.”15 Pro-Americanism is assumed to be natural and reasonable, while anti-Americanism is painted to be the product of psychological predispositions.16 In such an approach, those who systematically oppose the United States cannot be in their right mind.

To oppose a state categorically is indeed to take an extreme position, and it is hard to sympathize with those who see zero value in anything that the United States does. But if it is true that no right-minded person would systematically oppose the United States, should it not also be true that no right-minded person would systematically favor the United States? When anti-Americanism springs from emotion and pro-Americanism emerges from rational thought, have we deployed an adequate vocabulary? And, if that were not enough, “anti-Americanism” is both a category of analysis and a category of practice; its use by practitioners deeply complicates its use by analysts.17 Perhaps an overdrawn distinction between rationality and irrationality lies at the root of the problem; human behavior in fact involves complex motivations, contextual factors, and a variety of heuristic shortcuts linked to symbols. It becomes hard to view such complexity when we are faced with the binaries of “anti” and “pro.”18

Maybe anti-Americanism (or its invisible cousin pro-Americanism) is simply one dimension of “public opinion.” The term indexes a venerated tradition in the social sciences that has spawned a widely recognized industry of globe-trotting opinion measurers. And it is hard to deny that opposition to or support for the US is a matter of opinion, however well informed. If so, we might use survey methodologies to design questions that would measure what people think on a battery of topics, including those related to the United States. Bringing in the broader public would also be a welcome move away from high politics.

Yet, such research takes us only so far. Public opinion scholarship tends to assume that an identifiable public has already-formed opinions that are waiting to be discovered (rather than constantly changing in the course of social interaction), that can be counted via survey methods (rather than by other approaches), and that are heeded by elected representatives (rather than formed by political leaders). Such assumptions are problematic, even in democracies where they should rest on reasonably solid ground. In reality, opinions are often half-formed and changeable, elites often shape opinions as much as they represent them, and surveys have inherent and nontrivial limitations.19 True for democratic contexts, this is even truer for authoritarian ones.

We need a new vocabulary that generates analytic possibilities that the old vocabulary forecloses. That vocabulary should attend to the fact that individuals use both logic and emotion,20 consider both goals and process, and are affected by a striking array of inputs as they process information and make decisions in real-world situations.21 And it needs to be as much sociological as psychological.

A focus on symbols is particularly promising. It helps us to lay bare how changing public attitudes shift social relations in politically significant ways. Instead of seeking evidence of popular opinion’s direct impact on policymaking,22 this approach considers how changing symbolic depictions of the United States recombine the raw material available for social mobilizers. The result is that the changing stock of images about the United States empowers some societal actors and disempowers others. The story of anti-Americanism thus is rarely about a rising tide that swamps or a conflagration that overwhelms; more typically, it is about a gradual sedimentation of social meanings that changes the political landscape.

Symbols and Symbolic America

How does “America,” the symbol, become political? In some research traditions, symbolic politics are about how individuals develop lasting political predispositions through primary socialization.23 That is, symbols are like schemata that individuals use to simplify a complex world and to imagine alternatives against the backdrop of accumulating experience.24 Durable, these constructs can last a lifetime, quietly reinforcing political attitudes by doing emotional work.25 In theory, discussion could end here, with the simple observation that individuals’ personal worldviews change slowly, if they change at all.26 We could simply conclude that what “America” symbolizes is fairly well “baked in” by the time an individual becomes an adult.

But we do not live atomistic lives. Vibrant social ties continually shift, challenge, unsettle, and redefine the content and contours of relevant symbols.27 As Trevor Purvis and Alan Hunt, following Saussure, explain, “The openness of the connection between signified and signifier has the consequence that language is always more than denotative (as in pointing a finger at a physical entity and saying ‘cat’). As a consequence ‘meaning’ is never fully referential and is always contestable.”28 One need only think of the highly emotive, polyvalent, changeable symbol of the American flag; the referent remains the same, but what political work it does depends on how it is used, who is doing the using, and who is viewing the process.

Continuing a tradition that runs from Durkheim to Geertz to Edelman and beyond, I treat symbols as collective representations.29 Though in flux, their meanings are intersubjective; they are shared. As Serge Moscovici writes:

Social representations concern the contents of everyday thinking and the stock of ideas that gives coherence to our religious beliefs, political ideas and the connections we create as spontaneously as we breathe. They make it possible for us to classify persons and objects, to compare and explain behaviors and to objectify them as parts of our social setting. While social representations are often located in the minds of men and women, they can just as often be found in the society as a whole and, as such, can be examined separately.30

This approach to symbols departs from how the term is used in ordinary conversation, where something is considered “symbolic” if it lacks import. To the contrary, symbols are powerful because human beings reside in meaningful communities. To make sense of human behavior, we require attention to symbols, since “intersubjective meanings . . . [render certain actions] plausible or implausible, acceptable or unacceptable, conceivable or inconceivable, respectable or disreputable, etc.”31 Symbols thus pack political punch, though their impact may be diffuse and long-term.

So, what is “America” as a symbol? If in general a symbol is “something that stands for, represents, or denotes something else (not by exact resemblance, but by vague suggestion, or by some accidental or conventional relation),”32 then symbolic America is a shorthand for a multidimensional and polysemous cluster of resonant representations about the United States. Let me take each aspect in turn.

Symbolic America is multidimensional. What it represents to a given community on, for example, the economic dimension may differ from what it represents on a cultural, military, or political dimension. Each meaning is worth considering separately. A community may associate the American economy with vitality and technological progress while viewing American culture as superficial and morally degenerate. Or a community could view the American economy as representing class inequality while admiring American cultural products such as jazz, hip-hop, and Hollywood.

Symbolic America is also polysemous. If all symbols contain multiple meanings, symbolic America is no different. Naturally, there are common narratives about the United States, and we can describe how one or another narrative resonates in a given time and place, but individuals within any given community are exposed to novel stimuli that can shift in nontrivial ways what “America” comes to stand for. Any study of symbolic America that ignores the creativity of actors on the ground will be blind to the processes by which change occurs.

Finally, symbolic America is resonant. As Ignazio Silone once evocatively remarked, “America is everywhere . . . It is in Karachi and Paris, in Jakarta and Brussels. An idea of it, a fantasy of it, hovers over distant lands.”33 Looming over global politics, symbolic America provides ample raw material for social and political actors to use as they pursue their local agendas. Symbolic America does not cause local actors to make the choices they make, but it does provide a resonant language that enables certain behaviors and inhibits others. This is immensely important and powerfully political.

Multidimensional, polysemous, and resonant, symbolic America matters for politics in Central Asia and beyond. To see how, let us put it in motion.

Putting Symbols into Motion

In the chapters that follow, I first deploy geologic vocabulary meant to capture how symbolic America changes over time. Second, I turn to an approach that considers how social and political actors frame their movements, using symbolic America to further their aims. Together, these processes constitute what I mean by slow Anti-Americanism.

Geologic Metaphors

Just as sediment travels in waterways before settling in a new location, the raw material that constitutes the United States as a symbol is in fluid motion. Thus, views of the United States can flow both vertically into the state apparatus and horizontally into various segments of society. Consider Egypt, which “combines extremely close relations with the U.S. government with among the highest levels of expressed anti-Americanism.”34 On its face, it would appear to be a state determinedly ignoring popular sentiment. But the situation has never been simple. The Mubarak regime persistently criticized US policy, and even pro-democracy groups like Kefaya, which actively opposed Mubarak in 2004–5, offered vocal indictments of US policies.35 Thus, anti-American symbols and argumentation were a staple in Egyptian politics. The re-emergence of an explicitly pro-American regime under General Sisi after a coup in 2013 changed bilateral relations but did little to undermine these essential dynamics.

Views of the United States may also traverse political boundaries. In the 1980s, more than twelve thousand Saudi men went to fight jihad in Afghanistan. As Gwenn Okruhlik describes, these individuals were primed for political dissent. Moreover, the stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War generated a “fever pitch” of opposition to the United States.36 In Yemen, views of the United States were deeply affected by labor migrants who found themselves working in Saudi oil fields starting in the 1970s.37 The possibilities for such cross-border flows are many, as long as mobility remains part of the human condition.

Just as sediment that travels in waterways can settle and gradually become part of the layered bedrock in its new location, shifts in attitude about the United States have the potential to become part of fundamental social meanings. Such meanings can be quarried by future generations for political benefit. Discussing the rapid rise of anti-Americanism in Latin America in the 1950s, Alan McPherson observes that Venezuelan protesters in 1958 “had accumulated a vast repertoire of anti-U.S. imagery over decades—the predatory eagle, the omnipresent octopus, greedy Wall Street tycoons, the impersonal boots of U.S. Marines, and so on.”38 Such sedimentation is not sufficient to generate anti-American mobilization or to drive policy change, but it does represent necessary raw material for such possibilities. This raw material becomes socially and politically potent via the framing processes described below.

By using geologic metaphors, I seek to emphasize that the process of change, while slow and hard to predict, can become powerful. Of course, I do not mean that change literally occurs in geologic time. My purview is not millennia, but years and decades. If that seems a long span, this tells us much about the time-horizons normally used in analyses of politics.

Framing Processes

Scholars of social movements consider the processes by which mobilizers frame their efforts. A frame is a schema that enables people “to locate, perceive, identify, and label” their experience and their understanding of the world.39 In the context of social movements, frames link grievances to meaningful social and political action.40 Thus, collective action frames are “action-oriented sets of beliefs and meanings that inspire and legitimate the activities and campaigns of a social movement organization (SMO).”41

By considering framing processes, we further put symbols into motion. Consider important questions that frames help us to address: (1) Why do some people behave in ways that contravene their narrowly construed material self-interest? (2) Why do some people tolerate deplorable material conditions while others mobilize for change? (3) Why do mobilizers exert such effort and expend such resources to build a rhetoric that persuasively links local concerns to extra-local ones? (4) Why do certain framing efforts fall on deaf ears while others resonate broadly? A framing approach reminds us that symbols are powerful not only “when conventional material resources are lacking.”42 Nor do symbols merely provide the “grounds or warrants for the political activity [already] engaged in.”43 Rather, symbols are a staple of contentious politics and give meaning and direction to political trajectories.

As the empirical chapters that follow will make clear, framing choices necessarily entail a fair degree of strategic action. This should not surprise. Framers seek to gain new recruits, secure the sympathy of broader publics, broker coalitions, mobilize their members to action, and tap into broadly resonant identities and discourses.44 All the while, framers can fairly be assumed interested in preserving or enhancing their own personal status and privilege. Thus, when we think about framing, we ought to be mindful of framers’ strategic calculations.

Yet strategy and outcome have a complex relationship; one does not reliably predict the other. In some cases, mobilizers may make framing choices that are rational in the short term but hamper mobilization over the medium-and longer-term. Lawrence Markowitz gives an example from Central Asia, in which mobilizers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan relied heavily on anti-imperialist nationalist frames—something that made short-term sense but ultimately led them into the political wilderness.45 In other cases, mobilizers avoid particular frames because they cannot predict the effects such frames will have. Thus, while Fidel Castro would ultimately take full advantage of negative popular images of the United States, he “eschewed anti-Americanist themes prior to revolutionary victory.”46

Any understanding of framing choices must therefore attend to the concrete social and political contexts that define the horizons of the thinkable.47 These contexts are complex, in motion, and ask much of mobilizers. For one, mobilizers have no monopoly on framing processes; framing occurs throughout social life. Framers must contend with other frames and with other framers.48 For example, in 2020 in the United States, mobilizers used the powerful Black Lives Matter frame but also had to contend with counterframing from those who proclaimed that “All Lives Matter.” Moreover, framing choices must relate to larger symbolic universes.49 Framers who ignore such universes risk contradicting long-standing cultural frameworks, thereby undermining their own efforts to achieve popular resonance.

In short, framing is a widely used practice in the top-down management of ideas and images, but it is not a frictionless exercise in strategic manipulation. Recognizing this, our task is to take an analytic step backward, acknowledging that framing occurs in specific contexts rich with preexisting symbols. These contexts do not determine outcomes, but they necessarily create constraints on choice. Put differently, we should take stock of established raw material, how it flows, and what happens when it becomes sedimented again. These processes may be slow, but they are ongoing and dynamic. Moreover, they contain the potential for major social and political change.


1. Robert Snyder, “Explaining the Iranian Revolution’s Hostility Toward the United States,” Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 17, no. 3 (Spring 1994): 19.

2. Marco Aponte-Moreno and Lance Lattig, “Chávez: Rhetoric Made in Havana,” World Policy Journal 29, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 40.

3. James A. McCann, “Ideology in the 2006 Campaign,” in Consolidating Mexico’s Democracy: The 2006 Presidential Campaign in Comparative Perspective, ed. Jorge Domínguez, Chappell Lawson, and Alejandro Moreno (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 268–84.

4. Case-studies abound. On anti-Americanism in Germany, see Mary Nolan, “Anti-Americanism and Americanization in Germany,” Politics & Society 33, no. 1 (March 2005): 88–122. On South Korea, see Yongshik Bong, “Pragmatic Anti-Americanism in South Korea,” Brown Journal of World Affairs 10, no. 2 (Winter/Spring 2004): 153–65. On Europe generally, see Serio Fabbrini, “The Domestic Sources of European Anti-Americanism,” Government and Opposition 37, no. 1 (2002): 3–14. On the Arab world, see Abdel Mahdi Abdallah, “Causes of Anti-Americanism in the Arab World: A Socio-Political Perspective,” Middle East Review of International Affairs 7, no. 4 (December 2003): 62–73; for a flip-side discussion about how Hollywood films depict Arabs and Muslims, see Jack G. Shaheen, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 588, no. 1 (July 2003): 171–93.

5. Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane, “The Political Consequences of Anti-Americanism,” in Anti-Americanisms in World Politics, ed. Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 275.

6. Katzenstein and Keohane, “Political Consequences of Anti-Americanism,” 276.

7. For one treatment of a foreign policy lobby, see John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), as well as a trenchant rebuttal by Robert Lieberman, “The ‘Israel Lobby’ and American Politics,” Perspectives on Politics 7, no. 2 (2009): 235–57.

8. Alan McPherson, Yankee No! Anti-Americanism in U.S.—Latin American Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 2003), 167.

9. Parag Khanna, “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony,” New York Times Magazine, 27 January 2008; Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008). The phrase “the indispensable nation” comes from Bill Clinton’s remarks on international security issues, George Washington University, 5 August 1996,

10. See Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon, Exit from Hegemony: The Unraveling of the American Global Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).

11. Cédric Jourde, “‘The President Is Coming to Visit!’: Dramas and the Hijack of Democratization in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania,” Comparative Politics 37, no. 4 (July 2005): 421–40; Jason Brownlee, Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Jennifer Gandhi and Adam Przeworski, “Authoritarian Institutions and the Survival of Autocrats,” Comparative Political Studies 40, no. 11 (2007): 1279–301; Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Lisa Wedeen, Peripheral Visions: Politics, Power, and Performance in Yemen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Edward Schatz, “The Soft Authoritarian ‘Tool Kit’: Agenda-Setting Power in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan,” Comparative Politics 41, no. 2 (January 2009): 203–22; Lisa Blaydes, Elections and Distributive Politics in Mubarak’s Egypt (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, “Why Democracy Needs a Level Playing Field,” Journal of Democracy 21 no. 1 (2010): 57–68; Dan Slater, Ordering Power: Contentious Politics and Authoritarian Leviathans in Southeast Asia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Milan W. Svolik, The Politics of Authoritarian Rule (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

12. J. Paul Goode, “Redefining Russia: Hybrid Regimes, Fieldwork, and Russian Politics,” Perspectives on Politics 8, no. 4 (2010): 1055–75.

13. Katzenstein and Keohane, “Political Consequences of Anti-Americanism,” 303.

14. Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane, “Varieties of Anti-Americanism: A Framework for Analysis,” in Katzenstein and Keohane, Anti-Americanisms in World Politics, 12.

15. Mark Blyth, “The Politics of (Mis)-Representation: Constructing (and Destructing) Europe in Discourses of Anti-Americanism,” paper presented to Comparative Politics Workshop, University of Toronto, 12 April 2007, 8.

16. For one consideration of “pro-Americanism,” see Anne Applebaum, “In Search of Pro-Americanism,” Foreign Policy 149 (2005): 32–41.

17. On categories of analysis and categories of practice, see Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper, “Beyond ‘Identity,’Theory and Society 29, no. 1 (2000): 1–47.

18. As Simon introduced, human rationality is deeply bounded by “access to information and the computational capacities that are actually possessed by organisms, including man, in the kinds of environments in which such organisms exist.” Herbert A. Simon, “A Behavioral Model of Rational Choice,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 69, no. 1 (1955): 99. Yet, even thick accounts of rationality are wedded to an ontology favoring human choice (however bounded). Normatively attractive in a liberal society, this does not make them descriptively accurate. See Kenneth J. Arrow, “Methodological Individualism and Social Knowledge,” American Economic Review 84, no. 2 (May 1994): 1–9. Attempts to re-describe human agency without liberalism’s assumptions about individual choice include Hans Joas, The Creativity of Action (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); and Mustafa Emirbayer and Ann Mische, “What Is Agency?” American Journal of Sociology 103, no. 4 (January 1998): 962–1023.

19. Katherine Cramer Walsh, “Scholars as Citizens: Studying Public Opinion through Ethnography,” in Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power, ed. Edward Schatz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 165–82. See also John R. Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

20. Patrick R. Miller, “The Emotional Citizen: Emotion as a Function of Political Sophistication,” Political Psychology 32, no. 4 (2011); Marcel Zeelenberg, Rob M. A. Nelissen, Seger M. Breugelmans, and Rik Pieters, “On Emotion Specificity in Decision Making: Why Feeling Is for Doing,” Judgment and Decision Making 3, no. 1 (January 2008): 18–27.

21. Hauke R. Heekeren, Sean Marret, and Leslie C. Ungerleider, “The Neural Systems That Mediate Human Perceptual Decision Making,” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, no. 6 (June 2008): 467–79.

22. In Anti-Americanisms in World Politics, Katzenstein and Keohane conceptualize anti-Americanism as “polyvalent,” but when they bring evidence to bear, they rely principally on opinion surveys.

23. David O. Sears, “Symbolic Politics: A Socio-Psychological Theory,” in Explorations in Political Psychology, ed. Shanto Iyengar and William J. McGuire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 113–49; David O. Sears, “The Role of Affect in Symbolic Politics,” in Citizens and Politics: Perspectives from Political Psychology, ed. James H. Kuklinski (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 14–40.

24. Schemata are defined as “the highly organized and generalized structures in memory that guide cognition and memory recall.” See M. L. Morgan and D. L. Schwalbe, “Mind and Self in Society—Linking Social Structure and Social Cognition,” Social Psychological Quarterly 53, no. 2 (1990), as paraphrased in Kristen Renwick Monroe, James Hankin, and Renée Bukovchik Van Vechten, “The Psychological Foundations of Identity Politics,” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (2000): 423. They distinguish “schemata” from “social representations,” which are understood to be intersubjective and social, whereas schemata are treated as subjective and individual-based.

25. David O. Sears, “Symbolic Politics: A Socio-Psychological Theory”; David O. Sears, “The Role of Affect,” 32–33. On emotion at a level beyond that of individuals, see Janice Bially Mattern, “On Being Convinced: An Emotional Epistemology of Inter national Relations,” International Theory 6, no. 3 (2014): 589–94; Todd Hall, “Sympathetic States: State Strategies, Norms of Emotional Behavior, and the 9/11 Attacks,” Political Science Quarterly 127, no. 3 (2012) 369–400; Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 31; and David Kowalewski, “The Protest Uses of Symbolic Politics in the USSR,” Journal of Politics 42, no. 2 (1980): 439–60.

26. On the heritability of political traits, see John R. Alford, Carolyn L. Funk, and John R. Hibbing, “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?,” American Political Science Review 99, no. 2 (May 2005): 153–67; James H. Fowler, Laura A. Baker, and Cristopher T. Dawes, “Genetic Variation in Political Participation,” American Political Science Review 102, no. 2 (May 2008): 233–48; James H. Fowler et al., “Genes, Games, and Political Participation,” in Man Is by Nature a Political Animal, ed. Peter K. Hatemi and Rose McDermott (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2011), 207–23.

27. Work that treats the social realm as consisting of fixed attributes of individuals cannot appreciate such shifts. For example, one study that considers how religious identity affects one’s views of the United States reduces religion to answers to a feeling thermometer question. See Michele G. Alexander, Shana Levin, and P. J. Henry, “Image Theory, Social Identity, and Social Dominance: Structural Characteristics and Individual Motives Underlying International Images,” Political Psychology 26, no. 1 (February 2005): 27–46.

28. Trevor Purvis and Alan Hunt, “Discourse, Ideology, Discourse, Ideology, Discourse, Ideology,” British Journal of Sociology 44, no. 3 (September 1993): 485. See also Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Wade Baskin, ed. Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye, and Albert Reidlinger (London: Fontana, 1974).

29. Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, trans. W. D. Halls (New York: Free Press, 1984); Clifford Geertz, “Ritual and Social Change: A Javanese Example,” in The Interpretation of Cultures, ed. Clifford Geertz (New York: Basic Books, 1973); Edelman, Symbolic Uses of Politics. More recent work in this tradition includes Jan Kubik, The Power of Symbols against the Symbols of Power: The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1994); Michael Schatzberg, Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa: Father, Family, Food (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001); Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination; Lisa Wedeen, “Conceptualizing Culture: Possibilities for Political Science” American Political Science Review 96, no.4 (2002): 713–28; and Wedeen, Peripheral Visions. Discourse-analytic work, such as that done in international relations (IR), represents one offshoot. See Michael Shapiro, “Introduction II: Textualizing Global Politics,” in International/Intertextual Relations: Postmodern Readings of World Politics, ed. James Der Derian and Michael Shapiro (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1989), 11–22; Roxanne Doty, Imperial Encounters: The Politics of Representation in North-South Relations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); Jennifer Milliken, “The Study of Discourse in International Relations: A Critique of Research and Methods,” European Journal of International Relations 5, no. 2 (1999): 225–54. In general, IR has had a vibrant debate about what ontological status to accord to ideas; see Albert S. Yee, “The Causal Effects of Ideas on Policies,” International Organization 50, no. 1 (Winter 1996): 69–108; Judith Goldstein and Robert O. Keohane, eds., Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).

30. Serge Moscovici, “Notes towards a Description of Social Representations,” European Journal of Social Psychology 18, no. 3 (1988): 214, cited in Monroe, Hankin, and Van Vechten, “Psychological Foundations of Identity Politics,” 437–48.

31. Yee, “Causal Effects of Ideas,” 97. The mechanisms by which shifts in the inter subjective representations affect political possibilities are crucial. Once these processes are identified, we may then address the degree to which they “travel” to other cases. See Arthur L. Stinchcombe, “The Conditions of Fruitfulness of Theorizing about Mechanisms in Social Science,” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 21, no. 3 (1991): 367–88; Charles Tilly, “Mechanisms in Political Processes,” Annual Review of Political Science 4, no. 1 (2001): 21–41.

32. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “symbol,” accessed 22 November 2011,

33. Silone, quoted in Ajami, “Falseness of Anti-Americanism,” 53.

34. Marc Lynch, “Taking Arabs Seriously,” Foreign Affairs 82, no. 5 (2003): 207.

35. Lynch, “Taking Arabs Seriously,” 208; Manar Shorbaghy, “The Egyptian Movement For Change—Kefaya: Redefining Politics in Egypt,” Public Culture 19, no. 1 (2007): 175–96.

36. Gwenn Okruhlik, “Empowering Civility through Nationalism: Reformist Islam and Belonging in Saudi Arabia,” in Remaking Muslim Politics: Pluralism, Contestation, Democratization, ed. Robert Hefner (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 195–96.

37. Wedeen, Peripheral Visions.

38. McPherson, Yankee No!, 10.

39. Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), 21.

40. Social movement theorists do not reduce social mobilization to framing processes. For fuller treatment of the range of such theories, see Doug McAdam, Sidney G. Tarrow, and Charles Tilly, Dynamics of Contention (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). For an application of social movement theory to Islamist mobilization, see Quintan Wiktorowicz, ed., Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003). For one early and particularly thoughtful application of the study of contentious politics to the study of terrorism, see David Leheney, “Symbols, Strategies, and Choices for International Relations Scholarship after September 11,” Dialog-IO (Spring 2002): 57–70.

41. Robert D. Benford and David A. Snow, “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment,” Annual Review of Sociology 26, no. 1 (2000): 614.

42. The quote is from Kowalewski, “Protest Uses of Symbolic Politics,” 440.

43. The quote is from Willard A. Mullins, “On the Concept of Ideology in Political Science,” American Political Science Review 66, no. 2 (June 1972): 509. He is referring to ideology rather than symbols, but his logic mirrors that in studies downplaying the role of symbols.

44. Monroe, Hankin, and Van Vechten, “Psychological Foundations of Identity Politics,” 442, argues that social identity theory (as developed by psychologists) could help to explain instances of “prolonged mobilization better than do theories stressing access to resources or self-interests.”

45. Lawrence P. Markowitz, “How Master Frames Mislead: The Eclipse and Division of Nationalist Movements in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 32, no. 4 (2009): 716–38. Markowitz distinguishes frames from master frames, but his logic applies equally to this discussion. On master frames, see David A. Snow and Robert Benford, “Master Frames and Cycles of Protest,” in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, ed. Aldon Morris and Carol McClurg Mueller (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 133–223.

46. Jorge Domínguez, “Culture: Is It Key to the Troubles in U.S.-Cuban Relations?,” Diplomatic History 25, no. 3 (Summer 2001): 514.

47. On the politically thinkable, see Schatzberg, Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa.

48. McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly, Dynamics of Contention, 48; Bert Klandermans, The Social Psychology of Protest (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 46.

49. Kevin Gillan, “Understanding Meaning in Movements: A Hermeneutic Approach to Frames and Ideologies,” Social Movement Studies 7, no. 3 (December 2008): 247–63. For a similar argument about the centrality of semiotic practices to politics, see Wedeen, “Conceptualizing Culture.”