Appeals to Interest

Language, Contestation, and the Shaping of Political Agency

By (author) Dean Mathiowetz

Paperback - £23.95

Publication date:

15 November 2013

Length of book:

240 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271048512

It has become a commonplace assumption in modern political debate that white and rural working- and middle-class citizens in the United States who have been rallied by Republicans in the “culture wars” to vote Republican have been voting “against their interests.” But what, exactly, are these “interests” that these voters are supposed to have been voting against? It reveals a lot about the role of the notion of interest in political debate today to realize that these “interests” are taken for granted to be the narrowly self-regarding, primarily economic “interests” of the individual. Exposing and contesting this view of interests, Dean Mathiowetz finds in the language of interest an already potent critique of neoliberal political, theoretical, and methodological imperatives—and shows how such a critique has long been active in the term’s rich history. Through an innovative historical investigation of the language of interest, Mathiowetz shows that appeals to interest are always politically contestable claims about “who” somebody is—and a provocation to action on behalf of that “who.” Appeals to Interest exposes the theoretical and political costs of our widespread denial of this crucial role of interest-talk in the constitution of political identity, in political theory and social science alike.

“For some political theorists, interests are the nitty-gritty of political life, the bedrock beneath the airy fantasies of culture and identity. For others, interest-talk is a sign of the corruption of the political by a crass, narrow rationalism that can't do justice to the larger stakes of life in common. Dean Mathiowetz's new book—as meticulous in its readings as it is revolutionary in its consequences—challenges both sides of this all-too-familiar argument by showing that appeals to interest have always been about much more than their most influential defenders and critics have thought. Erudite and gripping, Appeals to Interest is an exemplary bridge between the history of political thought and critical engagement with contemporary political problems.”

—Patchen Markell, University of Chicago