The Meaning of Anti-Americanism: A Performative Approach to Anti-American Prejudice

  • Felix Knappertsbusch Justus Liebig University Giessen


A contribution to the ongoing debate on how anti-Americanism can be adequately conceptualized and how such prejudice can be distinguished from legitimate criticism, arguing that part of these conceptual problems arise from a too narrow focus on defining anti-Americanism and the use of standardized empirical operationalizations. Such approaches exhibit severe limitations in grasping the flexibility of the phenomenon in everyday discourse and often underestimate or ignore the interpretive aspect involved in identifying utterances as anti-American prejudice. Alternatively, a performative approach is proposed, understanding anti-Americanism as a network of speech acts bound by family resemblance rather than identical features. In combination with qualitative empirical research methods such a conceptualization is especially suited to account for the flexible, situated use of anti-American utterances. At the same time it grants reflexivity to the research concept, in the sense of a close description of the scientific application of the notion of anti-Americanism. Two empirical examples from an interview study on anti-American speech in Germany illustrate the potential of such an approach, providing an insight into how anti-Americanism is incorporated into the construction and expression of racist and revisionist national identifications in everyday discourse.
Focus: Qualitative Research on Prejudice