This article offers a cultural sociological approach to analyzing global political iconography. Global political icons function as carriers and embodiments of values cherished by a collective in a given historical period. This article provides a three-step analysis of formation, climax and establishment in the iconic process of Nelson Mandela. The underlying ‘material’ for any iconic process is an exemplary biography. Yet this material needs to be developed and dramatized by political agents. For iconicity to develop on a larger scale, their work in turn must resonate with a wider audience that accepts the icon as the embodiment of cherished values. In the case of Mandela, the time in prison and his conduct while incarcerated served as core elements in his iconic formation (biography). Mandela the icon, however, was largely the ‘product’ of the global anti-apartheid movement (agency). At its climax, from 1988 to 1994, the Mandela icon was enlarged through its correspondence with globally ascendant values of democracy and human rights (audience). The events surrounding his death in 2013 and the enormous number of biographies published after 1990 testify to the deep anchoring of the Mandela icon in global society.
American Journal of Cultural Sociology – Springer Journals
Published: Dec 16, 2014