CCS Junior Fellow Vanessa Bittner shares her new publication, “Dialectic icons: controversial public figures as emotional catalysts in contentious political discourse,” in the journal Emotions and Society.
Abstract: This article introduces the concept of dialectic icons: public figures who feature in contentious and polarising political discourse. The inflammatory quality of dialectic icons and their role as highly mediated symbols of conflict creates long-lasting emotional energy among audiences, who cluster in ideological camps as a response. However, these audiences can also actively and directly engage in and shape these discourses, particularly through social media. Examples of the public discourse about quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests illustrate how the controversiality, newsworthiness, interactivity and visibility of dialectic icons ultimately contribute to social polarisation. By focusing on dialectic icons as proxy battlegrounds for public audiences, this article establishes a useful concept for gaining fresh insights into collective meaning- and truth-making processes.