International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

Mother of all agricultural seasons: Confusion, uncertainty and the epistemology of domination in con

James M Statman, Abt Associates

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: Abt Associates
Research Area: Social inequality and social change

This paper describes the experiential categories and psychological dynamics underlying the epistemology of oppression (Statman, 2010) with particular focus on the role of confusion and ambiguity in generating political passivity, resignation and compliance. It considers the psychological and political consequences of a totalitarian environment in which official accounts of political reality are obviously distorted, where alternative discourse seem only marginally more reliable and where knowledge of what is "really going on" is obscure and almost impossible to come by.  Based on the author's work in Zimbabwe (2007-2010), a context of massive hyperinflation, economic uncertainty and deprivation; political intimidation and coercion; ubiquitous threats and acts of vioence; and where social, economic and political "facts" are disputed and constantly shifting, this study identifies the resulting vectors of confusion, cynacism, despair and acquiescence that serve to discourage oppositional political mobilization.

This work challenges Scott's (1990) valorization of the "hidden transcript" of revolt as missing the complex psychological dynamics generated within an unpredictable, fraught social/political environment where the meaning of events is constantly contested and reinterpreted.  It further identifies the ironic process through which the regime's obvious inability to impose a fully totalizing control and to silence dissent actually contributes to generalized norms of confusion, resignation and inward focus on survival, thereby strengthening the domination of the ruling elite.