The Emperor’s Old Clothes (Stollberg-Rilinger)Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz
A key idea in our project is that managing conflict is about more than just resolution. Conflict managers can escalate, or drag out, or just let conflicts fade away. Our #RetroConflictsInspirations review today is all about cases of unresolved conflict and its consequences. The Emperor’s Old Clothes (2015) by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger analyses four moments of conflict in the history of the Holy Roman Empire. But these aren’t the Empire’s great wars, or even its intellectual debates. They are about symbolism.
Drawing on cultural sociology, the book argues that in the Empire’s constitutional politics you can never separate hard questions of policy from symbolic questions of presentation and representation. That, it argues, would be an anachronism. In that kind of world, conflicts over the symbolic were more than a question of courtesy. As #conflictmanagers on the political stage navigated the ‘expectations about expectations’ at the heart of the Empire’s politics, they were at every moment reshaping the Empire itself. The Emperor’s Old Clothes can, therefore, act as a great illustration of the historical contingency of conflict management practices and the high stakes that conflict management often had in the pre-modern world. AC