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The European Union and Beyond

Emotions and Populism

Parties and elections
Workshop Number
Workshop Director
Donatella Bonansinga
University of Birmingham
Workshop Co-Director
Monika Verbalyte
Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg

This workshop aims at contributing to the growing academic discussion on the importance of emotions for political engagement and, in particular, on their relevance for understanding populist success. Even though the literature on populism is wide and articulate, research on its emotional underpinnings and affective components is still in its infancy.

This workshop aims at filling this gap, building on the premise that emotions and populism might be particularly interconnected. Negative emotionality seems to be, by definition, embedded in populism’s conflictual logic and “Manichean outlook of society, in which there are only friends and foes” (Mudde 2004: 544). Indeed, there cannot be conflict without out-group hostility and aversion. In their definition of populism as counterposing “a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites or dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice”, Albertazzi & McDonnell (2015: 5) interestingly point out to a series of grievances and perceived vulnerability that require further examination.

Structural explanations to the rise and success of populists are currently insufficient. The ‘cultural backlash’ thesis, suggesting support for populism is a result of the values shift in Western societies, has resulted in more consistent findings than the economic explanation, which has mostly produced mixed results (Inglehart and Norris 2016). However, both explanations have only highlighted the conditions that may potentially cause individuals to resent and blame elites and out-groups for their perceived sense of deprivation. There are a few attempts (e.g. Salmela & von Scheve 2017) which point at the role of emotions in both generating and feeding the subjective sense of deprivation that is linked to populist success, but further research needs to unpack the emotional mechanisms behind structural conditions.

Emotion research informs this new scientific inquiry in its psychological as well as sociological understanding. The findings of political psychology reveal the ways emotions underpin our attitudes, political identities and values, e.g. through biased information processing and rationalization of one’s preexisting beliefs, or so-called motivated reasoning (Lau & Redlawsk 2006; Lodge & Taber 2013). Political sociology of emotions is more focused on medial and discursive interpretations of psychological affective experiences (e.g. Wodak 2005) as well as their historical and societal embedding (e.g. Demertzis 2006). Emotion understandings underlying these perspectives may differ in their proposed rationality and functionality, but both focus on complementary components that in concert with other disciplines, such as social psychology and political science, could contribute to our understanding of populism.

Building on this background, the “Emotions and Populism” workshop aims at bringing together different literatures, approaches and methodologies to expand the work done so far on structural explanations and thus advance the study of populism. It is only with cross-disciplinary endeavours that we can provide systematic analyses of the phenomenon, explanations of its appeal and theories on its effects. Far from being a mere theoretical exercise, this workshop has wide-ranging empirical implications that can allow us to better understand the unfolding political events.

Paper List

Title Details
‘EU Did It!’ – The Role of Blame in Brexit View Paper Details
Bringing in Emotions: Social Isolation, Emotional Responses and Populist Attitudes View Paper Details
Do Persons with Low Life Satisfaction Vote More for Populist Parties? View Paper Details
Emotions and Audiences: Understanding the Rhetoric of the Scottish National Party View Paper Details
Emotions and Populist Narratives of Crisis View Paper Details
Emotions as a Mediator Between the Perceptions of Relative Deprivation and Populist Attitudes View Paper Details
How Emotional are Populists Really? Discrete Emotions in the Communication of Political Parties and their Influence on Information Diffusion View Paper Details
Media Populism versus Populism Style – Core Relational Themes as Emotional Predictors of Populist Communication Strategies within News Media View Paper Details
Our Damned Weakness: Tensions between Reason and Emotion in Populist Political Actors View Paper Details
Profiling Malignant Rhetoric: Linking Cognitive Linguistics and Machine Learning Algorithms to Evaluate the Emotionality of Populist Discourse within Social Networks View Paper Details
Resentment versus Gratitude: Emotions and Support for Democracy-Eroding Populists View Paper Details
The Affective Content of Populist Security Communication View Paper Details
The Emotional Economy of Austerity: Affect in the World of Populism View Paper Details
What Comes First? Anger, Fear, or Populism? On the Dynamic Relationship between Anger, Anxiety, and Support for Right-Wing Populism View Paper Details
When Euroscepticism Meets Populism: Emotions and the 2016 British EU Referendum View Paper Details
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