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.