ECPR General Conference
University of Wrocław, Wrocław
4 - 7 September 2019




Identity and Populism

Populism
 
Identity
 
Mobilisation
 
Narratives
 
Section Number
S23
Section Chairs
Ireneusz Paweł Karolewski
University of Wrocław
Aleksandra Sojka
Universidad de Granada
Section Co-Chair
Soetkin Verhaegen
Stockholm University

Abstract
The surge in support for populist politics worldwide heralds a new period of relevance for identity politics. Populist discourses typically problematize the gap between ‘us’, the people, and ‘them’, the corrupt establishment. Furthermore, in the demarcation of the people, national, ethnic, religious, class, and gender identities are mobilized for political gains. Political discourse that relies on such strategies has increasingly become central in shaping the public debate in different contexts, often materializing in policy proposals targeted against those who are not regarded as part of the core community.

This brings us to the key issue of the identity-populism nexus, of central interest to this section. The background of this question is that identity and identity politics play a vital role in populist political strategies. As growing numbers of citizens in democratic countries (but also in semi-consolidated democracies, as well as liberal autocracies) appear to become disillusioned with pluralism and the rule of law, they become increasingly tempted by populist rhetoric. Populists offer simple narratives which often rely heavily on identity politics, to reassure citizens in an in increasingly complex world. Moreover, and even more disturbingly, the discourse of populist actors related to authoritarian and anti-pluralist practices draws strongly on exclusionary identity politics.

Identity plays an important role in thinking about who are legitimate and illegitimate political actors, and the resulting populist calls for a radical restructuring of the state. However, populism might not be about abolishing democracy per se, as it thrives on support of electoral majorities, in particular on the backing of disgruntled citizens who can easily be drawn into various types of identity politics. Oftentimes, real grievances of the citizens are given an emotional twist of anger by populist actors who construct new identity lines, which are drawn between those claiming to represent the legitimate voice of the people and the “others” of the lesser kind.

Against this backdrop, this section aims to look at the role of identity in populist politics in its different variations. The section is interested in why and how political leaders in democratic and non-democratic regimes appeal to nativist, majoritarian or ethnic identity, as they attempt to radicalize public discourse against pluralism and undermine the rule of law. At the same time, the more traditional link between identity and populism relates to political campaigns and political decisions to “exit” from larger polities (such as the European Union) or oppose international collaboration agreements (for instance, trade agreements). These campaigns often appeal to the sentiments of a narrowly defined identity and rely on the mobilization against minorities.

Furthermore, the section is interested in the following questions: Which identities are mobilized by populist actors, parties and movements? How is the demarcation of ‘the people’ related to claims of illegitimacy of current governance arrangements? Which counter-movements or institutional reactions are observed where populist discourses gain traction?

The section is interested in the identity-populism nexus regarding the following issues in particular (if not exclusively):

• The role of identity in populist ideology/ Populism and identity-making/ Political mobilisation of identity
• Populism and political legitimacy
• Identity and state capture by parties and private interests
• Politics of memory and populism
• Identity and the politics of “exit”
• Populist discourses
• Emotions and identity politics

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"Aristocracies … may preserve themselves longest, but only democracies, which refresh their ruling class, can expand" - Hugh Trevor-Roper


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