Gender and charismatic power

Theory and Society 49 (4):533-561 (2020)
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Working beyond the inclination to inaugurate alternative theoretical traditions alongside canonical sociology, this article demonstrates the value of recovering latent gender theory from within classic concepts—in this case, Weber’s “charisma.” Close readings of Weber reveal, (a) tools for theorizing extraordinary, non-masculinist agency, and, (b) clues that account for the conventional wisdom (popular and scholastic) that charisma is “not for women.” While contemporary movements may be tempted to eschew charismatic leadership per se because of legacies of dominance by men, there is value in Weber’s formulation, which anticipated the performative turn in social theory that would destabilize biologistic gender ontologies. Value in this exchange also flows back to Weber: by confronting his intermittent tendency to describe charisma in terms that we now recognize as “customs of manly power,” we reveal heretofore unseen imperfections (i.e., traditionalist modes of legitimation) in his ideal-type. This engagement thus demonstrates an empowering mutuality between contemporary gender theory and “the classics.” The article ends by theorising the nexus of gender and charisma in the case of Trump, pointing to possibilities for vitiating Donald Trump’s charisma, as well as for anti-Trumpian charisma.
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