American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 241–288 | Cite as

Action in culture: Act I of the presidential primary campaign in the U.S., April to December, 2015

  • Jason L. MastEmail author
Original Article


This article offers a thick description of the United States during the first nine months of the 2016 presidential election competition. It argues that this competition is organized in a theatrical way, and that this period, from April to December 2015, represents act one of the drama. It argues that performances in act one contribute to setting the cultural and interpretive conditions in which citizens will enter and act back on the drama in its subsequent acts, in state primaries and caucuses, and in the general election in November 2016. Building on the works of Roland Barthes and Clifford Geertz, the article gives a structural, or semiotic, interpretation of the dominant symbols and discourses operating in the dramatic field, and using Alexander’s cultural pragmatics, it identifies and analyzes key performances given by candidates Clinton and Trump, which crystalized particular meaning formations and lent the proceedings a sense of dynamism and flow. The article demonstrates how analyzing performances in a manner consistent with cultural pragmatic theory contributes to research on electoral politics, political authority, and legitimation processes.


cultural pragmatics structural hermeneutics performance charisma politics elections action in culture 



The author thanks Jeffrey Alexander and Samuel Nelson for encouraging this project and sharing informal reflections on its theme, and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and recommendations.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 23 kb)
41290_2016_9_MOESM2_ESM.docx (12 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 12 kb)


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Advanced StudyUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

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