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The Social Life of Fighting Words

The Case of Political Correctness

Ronald S. Stade

Political correctness has become a fighting word used to dismiss and discredit political opponents. The article traces the conceptual history of this fighting word. In anthropological terms, it describes the social life of the concept of political correctness and its negation, political incorrectness. It does so by adopting a concept-in-motion methodology, which involves tracking the concept through various cultural and political regimes. It represents an attempt to synthesize well-established historiographic and anthropological approaches. A Swedish case is introduced that reveals the kind of large-scale historical movements and deep-seated political conflicts that provide the contemporary context for political correctness and its negation. Thereupon follows an account of the conceptual history of political correctness from the eighteenth century up to the present. Instead of a conventional conclusion, the article ends with a political analysis of the current rise of fascism around the world and how the denunciation of political correctness is both indicative of and instrumental in this process.

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Katherine Smith

This paper draws on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in Higher Blackley, North Manchester, England, to explore the ways in which individuals and groups who identify themselves and are identified as 'white', 'working class' and 'English' resist what they perceive as dominant ideas and discourses, deeply unsettling of their 'Englishness'. Perceptions and expectations of 'fairness' underpin social relations in Higher Blackley and this paper will explore perceptions of dominance through the local idiom of fairness. I explore how sentiments of belonging in this area are then imaginatively transposed onto national and international levels.

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Richard Kostelanetz

In memory of my friend Diane Dietchman Tong (1943–1998), an independent scholar who wrote her MA on the Judeo-Spanish language commonly called Ladino. There is a rumour in my family that when I was born in 1940 my parents thought about sending out a card that would read, 'Now we present our son Dick, one part kike, some parts spic'. Politically correct before everyone else, so avant-garde were they, my parents decided instead to print a more conventional announcement of my arrival.

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Imagining Multicultural London

Containment and Excess in Snatch

Rachel Garfield

Snatch (Guy Ritchie, 2000) is a comic-book gangster film that can be seen to represent the backlash against perceived notions of political correctness in what is effectively a public-schoolboy fantasy of working-class life in East London. However, the film also delineates the limits of this backlash in its depiction of minorities as either contained or excess. This is highlighted through the comic-book genre itself as well as the characterization. Thus, this article explores the tension between the genre, representation and Jewish identity.

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Introduction

The Social Life of Contentious Concepts

Ronald S. Stade

Concepts have cultural biographies and social lives. Some concepts become social and political keywords that can be both indicative of and instrumental in social and political conflicts. (It might even be possible to speak of conceptual violence.) But they are not just contentious; they also tend to be contested. Contentious and contested concepts have been studied by historians and social scientists from varying temporal and spatial horizons. It is a research area that lends itself to cross-disciplinary approaches, as is demonstrated in the three contributions to this section, the first of which investigates the Russian obsession with the concept of “Europe.” The second contribution to the section explores the military roots of the concept of “creative thinking,” and the final contribution examines the social life of “political correctness” as a fighting word.