How at moments of dramatic change and a shifting social context do politicalactors alter their public identities? Put differently, how do political figuresrespond when positions with which they have been closely identified are nolonger morally and electorally defensible and must be altered? Responses to identitychallenge within institutional spheres require an expansion of the theory of accountsto an approach that examines shifts in cultural fields. Those challenged must signaladherence to newly claimed values. The standard view of accounts examines interpersonaljustifications outside of institutional pressures, downplaying social location.Extending a theory of accounts to political actors requires recognizing appeals to audiencesand distribution of resources. In the political arena the presentation of accountscarries reputational dangers. Presenting excuses, politicians deny agency, placingthemselves at jeopardy as incompetent. Justifications require a credulous audiencethat overlooks possible insincerity. As a result, other strategies are necessary. Politicalactors rely on apologies or redress to demonstrate a revised self to stakeholders, strategiesbased on position, resources and audience. To analyze the realignment of reputationin unsettled times, I examine the postsegregation careers of Governor GeorgeWallace of Alabama and Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Both moved frombeing icons of segregation to (claimed) devotees of racial equality, but because of theirpolitical location they moved in different ways. Given their context, Wallace apologized, while Thurmond provided redress to offended communities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science