Symbolic action and constraint: the cultural logic of the 2017 UK General Election

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


This paper examines the influence of both the agential and structural aspects of culture on the 2017 UK General Election. The empirical section of the paper is organised around three aspects of the Labour campaign narrative: its promise to provide a national ‘alternative’, its mobilisation of Corbyn as simultaneously an individual and an icon, and its use of rallies and social media as alternative stages from which to project its meanings. It identifies the material conditioning, coding and counter-coding, narrativisation and counter-narrativisation of key events, issues, and figures, demonstrating how the substantive contestation of the campaign occurred within a consensual formal grammar that constrained symbolic action and often produced consequences unintended by cultural workers themselves. It, therefore, demonstrates how culture retained a relative autonomy in influencing meaning outcomes in part due to its formal semiotic logic. It introduces the notion of ‘code-rerouting’ to cultural sociology’s stock of conceptual tools and highlights how failure to conform to the structuring norms of civil rituals, such as presenting oneself to public scrutiny during a campaign, or failure to project coherence between surface and depth, individual and icon, past and present, or between private and public can prove fatal to performative felicity.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages43
JournalAmerican Journal of Cultural Sociology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Feb 2021

Structured keywords

  • Cultural Work


  • 2017 General Election
  • Jeremy Corbyn
  • Labour Party
  • cultural work
  • Civil Sphere
  • narrative
  • symbolic action

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