Political Elites and the Language of Mobilization: Examining the Ideological Influence of African Elites in the Emergence of African Nationalism

Jonathan Schoots, Stellenbosch University

What is the role of elites in shaping the collective identity of mass movements? This paper explores the ideological influence of charismatic leaders of early African nationalism in South Africa, tracking both how leading figures were able to reshape the shared discourse of group identity, and following where their influence was limited by language and identity which resonated with a larger, often rural, community. The paper does so by drawing on a novel dataset covering 25 years of digitized African language newspapers in South Africa, from 1870-1894. This dataset allows an examination of the emergence and consolidation of the proto-nationalist movement which laid the foundation for the famous African National Congress (ANC) political party. Using computational text analysis, the paper focuses on the powerful influence that John Tengo Jabavu, the key charismatic leader of 1880s African politics in South Africa, had on shifting political rhetoric in the language of Race and Nationhood. Yet despite this ideological influence, the analysis also shows how Jabavu and other elites had to respond to the ideas and identities which most resonated with those they sought to mobilize. The paper traces how key moments of collective mobilization resulted in the transformation of some of the founding identities which underpinned the proto-nationalist movement. This interplay between elite sponsored ideology and the need for communal resonance offers new perspectives on how political culture emerges and is established in the formative stages of political movements.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 91. New Developments in the Historical Sociology of Elite Political Action