Populism, Political Radicalism and Political Extremism: Normalisation and Contestation in Changing Democracies
Endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy
For several decades now, populism, political radicalism and extremism have been prominent political phenomena and have attracted wide scholarly attention. Initially, political research was mainly concerned with understanding the emergence and the potential challenges of populism, radicalism and extremism. Throughout the recent research efforts, scholars have gradually but systematically shifted their attention to the persistence, resilience and consolidation of what initially could be construed as marginal phenomena. The necessity to cope with the aftermaths of the Great Recession, with repeated refugees’ crises, and with the resurgence of political extremism and religious terrorism are accompanied by increasing distrust towards existing representative institutions. Together, these offer an enhanced possibility for the revival of populism, political radicalism and extremism throughout different aspects of politics and in different contexts. This brings forward two separate, yet intertwined societal evolutions that the section will address. On one hand, we can observe a ‘normalisation’ of certain aspects of populism, radicalism and extremism. Beyond the classic interpretations of populism, radicalism and political extremism conceived as protest challenges to the political establishment, these phenomena may also be interpreted as new ways of linking increasingly depoliticised electorates and weak party governments. Inherently, this suggests research efforts should perhaps include these phenomena in their more ‘traditional’ frameworks, rather than examining them as fringe occurrences or challenger dynamics. On the other hand, certain aspects of populism, radicalism and extremism are much less integrated in traditional or mainstream politics. If a growing number of populist and radical actors access power and extremist actors mobilise in the street, they often remain an exception rather than a rule. Even if their penetration of politics may be multifaceted and on the rise, they continue to serve as contestation mechanisms that challenge politics. The overall question then remains, to what extent are populism, political radicalism and political extremism normalised or contesting phenomena?
Populism, radicalism and extremism are extremely multifaceted. Whereas this provides a particular challenge to the study of the normalisation vs. contestation question, it also allows us examine our puzzle through a variety of sub-questions. First, we ask which aspects of populism, radicalism and extremism have become normalised or remain contested? Populism and radicalism range from political input (parties, individuals) to political output (policies, rhetoric). Political extremism can range from political violence (terrorism, hooliganism) to democratic protest (parties, mobilisation) and online activism (dark web). Which of these aspects have penetrated politics to such an extent they are no longer considered atypical? How do democratic polities react to these challenges? Second, under which circumstances can we observe the normalisation and contestation of populism, political radicalism and political extremism? In other words, what factors come into play for a phenomenon to become normalised or remain contested? We wonder what the role can be of the breeding ground, political opportunities, institutions, the political system and certainly also of the political actors themselves? Third, we can also observe a geographical dispersion of (i) how populism, radicalism and extremism are expressed, and subsequently also (ii) the extent to which certain dynamics become either normalised or remain contested. So, how does context come into play here? The combination of these questions invites further research, nourished by distinct paths and approaches, to broaden the overall understanding of these dynamics of normalisation and contestation.
Research topics covered by the Section
• Demand and supply sides explanations of populism, political radicalism and extremism
• Continuities and changes in populism, political radicalism and political extremism: ideas, politics and policies
• Populist, radical and extremist parties and social movements: organization and strategies of mobilization
• Populist, radical and extremist political communication
• Populist, radical and extremist online activism and propaganda
• Populist, radical and extremist interpretations of diversity and (in)equality: ethnicity, economy and beyond?
This Section combines different conceptual, theoretical, methodological and empirical approaches in order to examine the multifaceted and persistent impact populism and political extremism have on the different layers of democracies across both Europe and the Americas. This includes – but is not restricted to – research on (i) conceptual, historical and measurement debates surrounding populism and political extremism, (ii) the internal and external (supply-side) components of populist parties and partisan actors and extremist organizations and activists, (iii) individual and contextual determinants of support for populism and political extremism, (iv) populist and extremist strategies of political communication (v) on- and off-line discourses by populist and politically extremist actors, (vi) direct or indirect paths towards political (policy) influence, and (vii) old and new patterns of mobilisation.
The Section will bring together several substantive and methodological research traditions from various disciplines, with a particular interest in those who seek to bridge some of these thematic areas. At the same time, this section seeks to harmonise and unify different analytical focuses. More specifically, we provide a comprehensive analysis by including (i) comparative contributions including both European and American countries, (ii) supply- and demand-side dynamics, (iii) national and supranational levels of analysis, and (iv) dynamics within and beyond the electoral arenas.
We do not favour any specific methodological approach over any other, but this Section particularly promotes mixed-method, comparative and innovative discussions.