‘Populism in historical perspective’
11th November 2016, European Institute, University College London
The last decade has seen the rise of politicians, parties and governments to whom the label ‘populist’ can usefully be applied. This is true not only in Europe, but also in North and South America, Turkey, India and elsewhere. British media responses to this global shift have focused on the ‘Brexit’ referendum result and the short term consequences of the 2008 financial crash. There has been less interest in historicising these phenomena or locating them in an analysis of twentieth and twenty first century democracy. Yet this would be a useful endeavour, involving study not only of twentieth century populists like Pierre Poujade or Juan Perón, but also a wider project investigating the development of modern mass society since the late nineteenth century.
The UCL European Institute therefore invites abstracts for papers covering topics in twentieth and twenty-first century populism across a broad geographical range, with the aim of exploring the factors which shape its form, as well as the reasons for its apparent recent upsurge. While operating with an historical focus, we aim to bring together sociologists and political scientists, as well as modern and contemporary historians. We aim to discuss populism in a global perspective, and therefore especially welcome papers that deal with the subject outside of the European context, or which examine transnational connections between populists.
The symposium is co-organised with Passionate Politics, a research group at University College London, which explores the relationship between politics and the world of the emotions. As such, we are particularly interested in the affective content of populist politics, and the means by which emotions are mobilised to political ends.
In order to facilitate dialogue between our speakers and encourage lively and engaged discussions between conference attendees, the conference will be organised in three thematic panels, preceded by an opening plenary which will help to orientate the discussion. The panels are as follows.
Populists tend to portray themselves as standing for the marginalised. Yet they seek to be majoritarians, and their coalitions often encompass a large range of publics, characteristically cutting across divides (socio-economic, cultural, regional, occupational) which other political formations treat as normative. What is the class composition of populist movements and to what extent is the formulation ‘the people’ used to shape a politics that lies outside class (or other) conflict? Who in turn lies outside the people?
Populists characterise themselves as defenders of a particular set of values, often under attack by a distant elite. What social structures, cultural practices and economic interests shape these values? How do these values translate into political decisions? How do they inform notions of legitimacy, democracy, and authoritarianism.
Languages of populism
Populism often deploys the language of ‘common sense’, both as a persuasive rhetorical tool and an articulation of the subjectivity of a group which feels it has been neglected or ignored. How are these knowledges formed, communicated and mobilised? What is the role of the media, both as a mouthpiece for populist politics, a force in shaping the context in which it emerges, or as a focus for anger on the part of publics. What role have new forms of media played in allowing contemporary populists to communicate with their publics?
Please send 250-400 word abstracts for papers of 15-20 minutes to firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday 1 September. Please indicate the panel to which your abstract applies, and attach a short CV. Please direct any questions to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org