PS140O: Projecting Power

Prof Wasow


Why Projecting Power?

  • Personal
  • Academic

About Me

Who am I?

  • Worked in traditional and social media for about a dozen years

  • Went back to grad school to study the rise of mass incarceration


How did nonviolent protests influence public opinion?


Projecting Power

Questions About Film & Media

  • Can we learn with mind and body?
  • Can we use film to travel across space and time?
  • Can we study films to better understand the power of media more generally?
  • Can we study narrative to better understand the power of story?

Film & Social Science

  • Can we use examples in films to illuminate and evaluate social science theory?
  • Can we use social science to better understand cases in films?
  • Can we use film to better see the role of the state (though often seemingly invisible)?
  • Can we use film to study how power operates?

States, Power & Groups

  • What makes a state?
  • How do the few control the many?
  • How are states like organized crime? How do they differ?
  • How does power work both inside and outside of the state?
  • Are race and ethnicity better understood as ‘essences’ or ‘constructions’?
  • Are humans inherently ‘groupish’?
  • What kinds of tactics are effective for social movements?

TA: Clara Bicalho

  • Research focuses on belief formation and political accountability with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America
  • Combines insights from the field of political behavior and formal theory to understand how political beliefs, attitudes, and electoral choice are affected by information and social signaling.
  • Prior to UC Berkeley, received a B.A. in Political Science from New York University Abu Dhabi

Course Overview

Each Week

  • One film
  • Generally two primary texts
  • Some short additional texts
  • Every week aim to put texts in conversation with film
  • Two video essays from students
  • Mix of lecture and discussion


  • Each week we will screen a film, read related scholarship and discuss both in class and online

  • Attendance and active participation are essential parts of the course. Attendance will be taken at every class

  • Online participation will take place on bcourses and students are expected to contribute online every week

  • 20% of grade

Video Essay

  • Each week, a small team of about two to three students will prepare a brief, approximately five minute video essay

  • Video essays will generally be a ‘close reading’ of a scene (or two) from the film, typically in conversation with one or more of the readings

  • Video essays may also focus on aspects of film craft, such the score, lighting, or cinematography. Can also focus on controversies or engaging with questions of accuracy

  • The video essay should not be a review of the film or a summary of facts

Video Essay (continued)

  • Aim to critically analyze a section of the film and, typically, assess it in the context of our readings. Bringing in outside readings or other relevant references is acceptable

  • The video essay can be shorter or longer than five minutes but check with an instructor if a significantly different length

  • Submissions should include both the video and the essay script that includes citations

  • 15% of grade

Weekly Co-lead: Wiki, Online Discussion

  • Each week, a small team of about two to three students will help guide teaching and discussion.
    • Wiki: Summarize and/or revise that week’s readings on the class wiki
    • Online Discussion: Co-lead online discussion by posting discussion prompts such as a screengrab of a scene from the film and some follow-up questions as well as responding to classmates and asking clarifying questions


Film Poll


The Battle of Algiers

Possible Themes for Week 1

  • Origins of nations and nationalism
  • Pros and cons of violent and nonviolent tactics
  • Types of ‘actors’: FLN, military, civilians, press, UN…
  • Role of media, women in insurgency, children
  • Role of states in funding and banning film
  • Role of narrative:
    • Master narrative and counter-narratives

Narrative in Political Science, Patterson & Monroe (1998)

What is Narrative?

  • A story
  • Human beings as actors, have agency
  • Often directed toward some goal
  • Some sequential ordering of events
  • A narrator’s perspective

Why Narrative in Social Science?

  • Individual
    • How we make sense of reality
      • Facts require interpretation, always ambiguity
      • Example: “I did well on that test”
    • Story of our lives
      • Our place in the world
      • “Even as adults, we continue to imagine our futures, families, careers, retirements, and major transitions.” (Patterson & Monroe, 320)

Why Narrative in Social Science?

  • Collective
    • We all inherit stories from family, school, culture, religion and so on that structure our thinking
    • “Metanarrative,” grand narratives of our time
      • Good vs evil, Order vs chaos, Individual vs society, Expansion of human rights, appear universal
    • “Master narrative,” stories that reinforce a social order
    • Community counter-narratives can also challenge established narratives

Putting Film and Text in Conversation

“Narratives are important in providing both individuals and collectives with a sense of purpose and place. The shared stories of a culture provide grounds for common understandings and interpretation. But as such, they may become sites of cultural conflict when those common understandings are challenged.”

— Patterson & Monroe (1998, 321)

Putting Film and Text in Conversation

“When narratives of culturally acceptable success are not available or are beyond imagination for a particular group, subcultures provide alternative ways to make sense of one’s place in the world. (Folk tales provide one obvious instance of this. Indeed, nationalist movements often make use of folk stories in their attempts to unify a people.)”

— Patterson & Monroe (1998, 320)

Close Reading of a Scene (and/or Text)

  • What’s going on?
  • What’s conveyed?
  • What directorial choices shape our experience?
  • Does the scene serve as a kind of symbol or analogy for something larger?
  • How does power work in the scene?
  • Where is the state? Who wields “legitimate use of violence”?

Example: Counter-narrative in Civil Rights Movement

“Diane Nash was an amazing young woman, a college student in Nashville, about 20 years old in 1960, as they were beginning the sit-in demonstrations at lunch counters to demand integration. Her self-definition was this — we are people who are no longer willing to live with segregation; now, we understand you may kill us for that, but that’s your problem, not ours.”

—Thomas Ricks on NPR

Gloria Richardson, Protest and Media

“Not only does the photo capture a cinematic level of drama; it also displays Richardson’s courage and steely resolve. In a 2013 interview with Amy Goodman, Richardson describes the moment: ‘And then this guy started coming toward me. I thought he’s got to be crazy. And I don’t even know why I pushed the gun, but I know I was furious at that time.’”

— Barbara Smith, The ‘Creative Chaos’ of Gloria Richardson (1922–2021)

Gloria Richardson, Protest and Media

“The fact that we see a Black woman coolly facing off against a heavily armed white man in military uniform feels paradigm-shifting, especially when women were generally expected to be helpmates behind the scenes.”

— Barbara Smith, The ‘Creative Chaos’ of Gloria Richardson (1922–2021)

Counter-narrative in the Wedding Scene

Counter-narrative in the Wedding Scene

“Indigenous artists, musicians, painters, sculptors and writers also joined their compatriots in providing an anti-colonial ‘counter-discourse,’ reacting thereby to the popular culture of the urban pieds-noirs community, who tended to portray native men using five main stereotypes: ‘savage, poor, dirty, dishonest, and lascivious’ (Sivan 1979, p. 32). Similarly, native women were often depicted in their domestic space as prostitutes in alluring fantasist erotic settings.”
— Kahina Amal Djiar (2009) in “Symbolism and memory in architecture: Algerian anti-colonial resistance and the Algiers Casbah”

Counter-narrative in Art

“As a rebuke to French colonialist imagination in Algiers, Mohamed Racim, painted a series of works that revealed the power of indigenous cultural resistance. One of Racim’s favourite scenes described the faithfulness of the native population to their customs, as well as the strong sense of community that continued to characterise the lifestyle in the Casbah. It showed the urban ambience of the old medina area during a typical night of Ramadan. No sign at all of the French colonial presence in Algiers was depicted, as if the Casbah was a completely independent territory.”
— Kahina Amal Djiar (2009) in “Symbolism and memory in architecture: Algerian anti-colonial resistance and the Algiers Casbah”

Counter-narrative in Art

“The strength of this painting resides to a large extent in the socio-cultural specificities of the scene: terraces cornered by chatting women, streets inhabited at night by playing children and people socialising, with a series of illuminated minarets behind them, which symbolised the religious character of the celebration – and perhaps a deeper sense of persisting devotion to the Islamic faith.”
— Kahina Amal Djiar (2009) in “Symbolism and memory in architecture: Algerian anti-colonial resistance and the Algiers Casbah”

Counter-narrative in Art

“In another artwork, Racim painted a scene of a wedding party taking place in one of the Casbah’s courtyard houses (Figure 2). By placing the indigenous woman in the shape of the bride, he wanted to give her an intentionally ‘decent’ image.”
— Kahina Amal Djiar (2009) in “Symbolism and memory in architecture: Algerian anti-colonial resistance and the Algiers Casbah”

What else stands out about the wedding scene?

Let’s hear first from: Celine, Cerys, Tohar, Lupe

In Sum: Experience is Always Contested

“Experience is at once always already an interpretation and something that needs to be interpreted. What counts as experience is neither self-evident nor straightforward; it is always contested, and always therefore political.”
— Scott (1991, 797) cited in Patterson & Monroe (329)


Brubaker: Politique du Pire?

Why a Politique du Pire?

“Ethnic and other insurgencies, for example, often adopt what is called in French a politique du pire, a politics of seeking the worst outcome in the short run so as to bolster their legitimacy or improve their prospects in the longer run.”
— Brubaker (2002), Ethnicity without Groups

How does the idea of a Politique du Pire help explain key scenes in The Battle of Algiers?

Let’s hear first from: Matthew, Vidhi, Sam, Ethan


Anderson, Imagined Communities

Puzzle of Nations and Nationalism

  • For most of human history, we did not have nations like modern nation-states
  • What explains rise of modern nation-states?
  • “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.”

Nations as “Imagined Communities”

  • “I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community — and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”
  • “It is imagined because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”
  • “All communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined.”

Nations as Limited

  • “The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind.”

Nations as Sovereign

  • “It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm. Coming to maturity at a stage of human history when even the most devout adherents of any universal religion were inescapably confronted with the living pluralism of such religions…”

What linked “fraternity, power & time”? Print-capitalism

  • “If manuscript knowledge was scarce and arcane lore, print knowledge lived by reproducibility and dissemination.”
  • “One of the earlier forms of capitalist enterprise, book-publishing felt all of capitalism’s restless search for markets.”
  • ‘We have here for the first time a truly mass readership and a popular literature within everybody’s reach.’

An Explosive Interaction

  • “What, in a positive sense, made the new communities imaginable was a half-fortuitous, but explosive, interaction between a system of production and productive relations (capitalism), a technology of communications (print), and the fatality of human linguistic diversity.”

What language do people speak in France?

Three Bases of National Consciousness

  • First, unified fields of exchange and communication below Latin and above the spoken vernaculars
  • Speakers gradually became aware of the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people in their particular language-field
  • These fellow-readers, to whom they were connected through print, formed, in their secular, particular, visible invisibility, the embryo of the nationally imagined community.

Second: A New Fixity to Language

  • Second, print-capitalism gave a new fixity to language, which in the long run helped to build that image of antiquity so central to the subjective idea of the nation.

  • “For three centuries now these stabilized print-languages have been gathering a darkening varnish; the words of our seventeenth-century forebears are accessible to us in a way that to Villon his twelfth-century ancestors were not.”

Example of Print and “Fixity”

Third: Languages-of-Power

  • Third, print-capitalism created languages-of-power of a kind different from the older administrative vernaculars. Certain dialects inevitably were ‘closer’ to each print-language and dominated their final forms.

  • “High German, the King’s English,and, later, Central Thai, were correspondingly elevated to a new politico-cultural eminence.”

Role of Media in Battle of Algiers?

Role of Media

  • Why “And here? That depends on you.”?
  • What does “What did Paris say yesterday?” mean?

Discussion: What other ways do we see media at work in film?

Let’s hear first from: Adreana, Jason, Meena, Fatima

Discussion: Counterfactuals

  • What else could French state have done?
  • What might FLN or other Algerian leaders have done?
  • Why might those alternatives have been unlikely?
  • Does the idea of a politique du pire apply to more recent history?
  • Let’s hear first from: Jackie, Sophia, Tomas, Alondra


  • Why strike?
  • Why does the UN matter?
  • How would we describe this strategy by the FLN?
  • How might we explain France’s response?

Let’s hear first from: Chris, Katherine, Elise, Lalitta

Video Essay Examples