A Review of Jeffrey C. Alexander & Bernadette N.
Jaworsky’s Obama Power, (2014, Cambridge:
Polity Press, 140pp)
Published online: 12 January 2017
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017
It’s not every day that one is asked to write a 3000-word review of a 30,000-word book—with
the author charged to produce a 3000-word response. Is all this worth the trouble? It depends:
on the significance and percipience of what the book has to say; on the substantiality of both
the review and the review of the reviewer.
Surely the subject of Obama Power—how and why the President won re-election in
2012—deserves close and serious attention. American politics and government matter a lot
to the country and to the world. And the Obama years have had their share and more of big-
time domestic and international challenges.
Obama Power asserts that to find out how and why Obama won, it Bdrills down to the
bedrock of US politics and culture.^ Jeffrey Alexander, the co- (and senior) author, is a Yale
sociologist: a doyen in his discipline’s subfield of cultural sociology, which studies the
interplay of sociology’s traditional building-blocks—community, group behavior, race, class,
gender—within the overarching (if underdefined) realm of culture.
Cultural sociology is, of course, far from being a trail-blazer in its focus on culture as a tool
of social analysis. Anthropology from its earliest days, history especially after World War II,
psychology more recently, and economics most recently, have found the concept of culture to
be of great value. But, as is the case with much social science, cultural analysis does not
entirely avoid the danger of dressing up old verities in new jargon. Thus, it is not clear that to
call the age-old political act of denigrating the opposition Bsymbolic deflation^ adds very
much to our understanding of the practice.
Still, not only the concept of cultural sociology, but the book’s approach to it, has a
considerable appeal. As the authors vividly observe, Bwe are interested not in structures but
in processes. Not the why but the how.^ This, they say, means looking at things not as through
a telescope but as through a microscope.
Int J Polit Cult Soc (2017) 30:311–316
* Morton Keller
Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02453, USA