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Human Bodies as Value Projectors: Clinton’s 2016 GOTV in Northeast Philadelphia

Fri, August 30, 10:30 to 11:00am, Marriott, Exhibit Hall B South


During the 2016 United States Presidential Elections, Hillary Clinton deployed more than 500 field operation offices around the United States. This article is a case study of one of those offices, which was located in Northeast Philadelphia, where 30% of the population are Latinos. Through an ethnographical observation and in the frame of a grounded theory methodological design, this investigation presents evidence of how the Democratic campaign used human bodies (i.e., material artifacts), as vehicles for political communication. The paper theorizes that, in the symbolic realm, the material bodies of Clinton, and her Latino staffers and volunteers, were used as "value projectors," that is, as vehicles for disseminating ideas and values in the midst of a contentious and polarized political campaign.

The ground game is a political communication strategy where candidates and parties contact voters through digital messaging, phone calls, and canvassing. By using all the strategies of the ground game, the Democratic campaign contacted Hillary Clinton supporters, confirmed that they were going to vote for her, and remembered and persuaded them to go out and vote on November 8 of 2016. Through August until the end of the campaigns in November of 2016, I worked as a volunteer for the Democratic candidate. During that time, I performed a participant observation of a local campaign that communicated with Latinos through a bilingual strategy that included all the ground game strategies. Thus, this case study ads to the existing literature that studies the ground game from qualitative and interpretative perspectives.

The ethnographical observations allowed me to understand and interpret how the Democratic campaign used bodies to communicate with Northeast Philadelphia Latino voters. On the one hand, the investigation explains that, as a material object, bodies had practical functions, such as locomotion (i.e., moving bodies and things around the city), interpersonal communication (i.e., face-to-face communication) and interpersonal mediated communication (i.e., communication using phones and various online platforms). On the other hand, and this is the core, and central argument of the paper, bodies’ materiality also operated in the symbolic realm. Hillary Clinton’s body was used as an axiological organizer of the campaign. That is, the mediatized body of the candidate symbolized the values that the Democratic campaign was promoting and projected these values to the Latino staffers and volunteers who were part of the Democratic campaign in the Latino turf.

Moreover, bodies of organizers and volunteers, as material objects, had embedded the political values that Clinton was promoting, such as cosmopolitism, multiculturalism, and globalism. In the bodies of Latinos were embedded their life trajectories, which included being born in a Latin American country; having familiar and cultural bonds to this region of the world; possessing the linguistic skills for speaking the language that is used to communicate in these countries; and owing a body that looked like a “Latina/o”. The bodies of the Latino staffers and volunteers became what I call a "value projector." Their bodies were used as screens to communicate and spread the values of the campaign because their bodies incarnated those values. The stories of these Latinos, which were embedded in their bodies, worked as symbolic representations for the campaign.

The paper concludes that during the electoral campaign bodies were a material instrument to achieve practical and symbolic goals in the realm of political communication. Every time that staffers and volunteers walked Northeast Philadelphia and knocked on doors, every time that they were present in a voter registering drive, every time that they were mobilizing people on the election day, their bodies, as material objects, were employed, as material infrastructure for political communication in practical and symbolic ways.


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