Charm: How Magnetic Personalities Capture Our Hearts, Minds and Politics

This talk centres on a magical quality in social life and politics: charm.

Please note this event will be held online via Zoom. To request a link to this event, please email mediaresearchsupport@leeds.ac.uk by 3pm on Wednesday 11 November.

We all know charming people, who, through their irresistible personal magnetism, preoccupy our minds and capture our hearts. Researchers in the humanities and the social sciences have largely avoided the analysis of charm. But for all of its magic, it is not beyond analyzing.

In this talk and in my future book, I attempt to draw the contours of a new understanding of charm for social research.  With a broad set of examples from charming salesmen to seductive politicians to attractive robots, I will demonstrate how profoundly “charm” shapes our interactions in politics, business and everyday social life. After giving a glimpse into the book’s concept and structure, I will zoom in on the role of charm offensives in contemporary media. Charm offensives are highly visual public relations campaigns, waged on television, in the press and on digital media, in which countries aim to shift their problematic international image by harnessing a political leader’s personal magnetism to the task. Overall the talk will argue that charm is one of the defining features of our contemporary mediated social and public lives. Charm's tension between productive seduction and abusive deception shapes our daily interactions, including our interactions with increasingly “charming” robots, and permeates our national and global politics. 

Julia Sonnevend is Associate Professor of Sociology and Communication at The New School for Social Research. She has held fellowships at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Centre for Contemporary History in Potsdam, and the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology in New Haven. Her interdisciplinary work argues that much of everyday life rests on the unexpected, not on the planned. Regardless of the extensive rationalization and disenchantment of contemporary social life, people remain deeply influenced by stories, events, mythologies, totemic objects, and magnetic personalities. Research thus has to pay closer attention to the performative and emotional dimensions of social interaction and confront elements of the human condition that cannot be pinned down by definitions or numbers, covered by theories, or even captured by words. 

Sonnevend is the author of Stories Without Borders: The Berlin Wall and the Making of a Global Iconic Event (Oxford University Press, 2016) and is currently working on a new book about the role of “charm” in business, politics, artificial intelligence and everyday social life. 

Twitter handle: @juliasonnevend