Immanence of seduction: for a micro-interactionist perspective on charisma

Convenors: Chiara Bassetti (CNR – University of Trento) & Emanuele Bottazzi (CNR – San Raffaele University)


The group assembly that achieves rhythmic coordination and collective effervescence gives emotional energy and feelings of membership to everyone taking part. But some persons put themselves more in the center of attention, while others are at the outskirts, or even excluded. (Collins, 2015, p. 17)

In everyday situated interaction, there are always those who are at the center. Think of activities such as fascinating a class during a lecture, mesmerizing the audience while telling a story or seducing the crowd while dancing in a club. Work needs to be done to give an empirical account of this peculiar kind of power. We think that in order to understand these phenomena we have to reconsider the Weberian notion of charisma, something that is almost not seen by current micro-interactionist literature.

To this purpose, this very notion needs to be reworked. The original view on charisma, as expressed in Economy and society, was not meant to cover “matters of everyday life”, dominated by patriarchalism and bureaucracy, but as transcending them. Such an exceptional character of charisma holds at the macro- and the meso-level of social life, where it makes sense, for example, to talk of the subjects of charismatic authority as “followers” or “disciples”, or to talk of the enemies of the charismatic leadership as bureaucratic agencies or permanent institutions. However, charisma, we believe, can be considered a phenomenon immanent to the micro-organization of everyday situated interaction.

Intuitively, some elements highlighted by Weber seem to be adaptable to an idea of charisma in micro-interaction, that is: charisma is not appointed by any formal authority, but it is given by proof; charisma is naturally unstable, since it is not an intrinsic property of the one who exercises it; charisma, finally, manifests its revolutionary power from within, by changing attitudes and beliefs of the people under its effect. But to seriously investigate such questions is to find new approaches for understanding, both theoretically and empirically, how the charismatic leader in an interaction changes others’ situated beliefs. May this “micro-leader” be regarded as the one who defines the sense of an interaction, given that s/he is the one who step-by-step compels the others, consciously or not, towards a particular reading of the situation at hand? How such an authority can be analyzed as an ongoing interactional achievement?

We would like to invite empirically-grounded and theoretically-founded contributions that highlight the situated, immanent character of charisma in social interaction.

Further possible topics are the following:

  • It seems that charisma is elusive and difficult to characterize. Is this a limit of the current literature or an intrinsic feature of this very notion?
  • What is the effect of charisma on the orderliness of an ongoing interaction?
  • May charisma be connected to seduction? How does desire spread? How to empirically study affect? How do desire, pleasure and power intertwine in and through social interaction?
  • Are the charismatic micro-leaders those who spread and reproduce, or those who resist and disrupt dominant ideologies and constituted powers?
  • Is charisma in micro-interaction a key to understand Foucauldian micro-powers?
  • Which are the methods to contrast the effects of charisma?
  • What about the immanent, impermanent character of charisma? How can this be related to performance studies and improvisation?
  • How to represent charisma? How to perform onstage (e.g. theatre) the charismatic character? What are the displayed traits of this kind-of-person?
  • Which is the role of the body and embodiment? More generally, which is the aesthetic of charisma?

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