Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics

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Sep 20, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics

The 16th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) will continue to focus on topical questions and issues related to American culture and society Photo from Unsplash by Courtney Hedger

Why is the United States of America so hard to understand? This question is one of several which participants of the 16th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) will explore over the next few days.

This year’s program – Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics – is bringing together more than 50 people from all corners of the planet to Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, Austria.

For the next four days, participants will assess topical questions and issues related to American culture and society. One goal of the program is to foster intellectual analysis and discussion between professionals and academics about the factors shaping the future of personal life and communities in America.

Participants will achieve this goal by attending thematic presentations by distinguished guest speakers, which will be followed by moderated plenary discussions and breakout workgroups to investigate topics further.

Issues to be explored at this year’s program include:

  • In what way are increased social, political and cultural tensions a product of demographic shifts, changes in leadership, or issues of gender, race relations, the politicization of immigration, and crime and punishment and judicial fairness in the U.S.?
  • What explains the loss of trust that America is currently experiencing and what are the implications for the future?
  • What are the most dynamic factors, specifically including the distribution of wealth and educational opportunity that are contributing to the polarizing of society and politics?
  • To what degree does an analysis of popular culture and cultural institutions, such as political, economic, educational, and the arts foster an understanding of America?  
  • To what extent does American populism and nationalism differ from that presently being experienced elsewhere?
  • In what way and manner has the expectation and conduct of political leadership changed in the 21st century?

The Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association and its precursor – the American Studies Center – have organized more than 30 American-themed seminars. The study of America has played a long and vital role in the history of Salzburg Global Seminar.

Previewing this year’s symposium, Marty Gecek, the chair of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association, said, “Our purpose is to understand the origin and nature of the political, social, cultural and institutional tensions currently occurring in the United States. Our plan is to analyze and discuss the likely directions of changes in America over the next decade, drawing on recent developments since the 2016 election as well as political and cultural trends leading up to the midterm elections of 2018. Participants will gain a better understanding of the complexity of domestic and international forces impacting and driving America in the 21st century."


Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.