Nostalgia as a Social Force

Yagmur Karakaya, Hamilton College

Nostalgia was first coined by Hofer, in his medical dissertation. Hofer’s aim was describing the pathologically emotional state that people find themselves in when far from home (Boym 2001; Dodman 2018). This paper follows Svetlana Boym’s footsteps in the endeavor to rid nostalgia from the dismissive stigma attached to it, not to redeem it and declare it harmless, but to show the nuances, the layered nature, and to bring in a more complex understanding of emotions that go in its making. In 2001, Boym declared the persistence of nostalgia, yet the 2016 US Presidential Election seemed to catch everybody off guard. How could the nostalgia for a “great America” win the elections? Brexit’s “Take Back Control,” and Modi’s “Hindu Revival” are among many examples that made journalists announce nostalgia and its companion, populism the contemporary political ills (Karakaya 2018). Without jumping to conclusions, we need to understand why it persists, with whom it resonates, and the ways in which it can exist, both within and outside politics. Thus, I develop a heuristic, which applies a sociological lens to the evolution of nostalgia, conceptualizing it as a social force. I argue that contrary to its common sense connotation of harkening back, lingering and regress, with the inherent, and quintessential component of desire to “take back,” and “bring back” the lost state, nostalgia contributed to shaping the post-Westphalian world order. With its promise of reenchanting the contemporary, it shaped boundaries, helped build new nation-states, and erected cities in its own dewy image. This heuristic assembles infrastructure, emotional governance, core sensibility, and temporal character of desire into one model, showing how the interworking of these elements build the social force of nostalgia, observed in three periods. The first form is Romantic Nostalgia. Second is Spectacular Nostalgia. And lastly, Cosmopolitan Nostalgia.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 38. Politics of Nostalgia