4 December 2019

Theorizing Populism

Updated 3 December 2019

Time: 14:30-16:00
Place: Tampere University, Pinni B 3111, Kanslerinrinne 1, 3rd fl.

Session Chair
Meyda Yegenoglu Mutman, IASR, Tampere University

Papers to be presented (subject to change) :

Mikko Lehtonen, Professor, Tampere University

Is This A Post-Truth Era? Populism and Knowledge

It is said that the West is amidst a crisis of knowledge and truth. Such events as Trump’s election or Brexit included elements of building binaries between expertise and the wisdom of the people and raised questions concerning “what forms/modes of knowledge and expertise are/might be valued and recognized” (Clarke and Newman 2017, 111). Such elements may rely on the populist dichotomy between “us” and “them”, differentiating “my” or “our” views from “their” opinions. “Right or wrong, this is my view!”

If there is such a crisis, what the crisis might be about? Is the crisis about knowledge and truth or is it about changing social relations – or both?  What do we talk about when we talk about valid and legitimate knowledge? Are there any common measures to weigh what is so called true knowledge and what is not? Is there any frame to debate on what constitutes “truth” or “knowledge”? Is the “truth” somewhere above everyday human beings or is it hiding in various human desires and interests?

Risto Heiskala, Professor, Director of the IASR, Tampere University

Explaining the recent rise of right-wing populism with the hexagon model

Hexagon model is a general social theoretical scheme for organizing the explanation of different social phenomena. It is an extension of Michael Mann’s neo-Weberian IEMP model studying the Ideological, Economic, Military, and Political sources of power in historical sociology. In Heiskala (2018) published in the Journal of Political Power (volume 11, issue 3) the model was extended to the NACEVP model to be called here the hexagon model, which is a social-theoretical research programme for the study of all objects covering Natural, Artefactual, Cultural, Economic, Violence-related, and Political sources of power. In this paper the model is applied to the study of populism. The basic claim is that different reductionisms flourishing in social research such as sociobiology, technological determinism, radical cultural constructionism, economism, “realism” in the study of international relations or political reductionism are all one-sided and thus not satisfactory explanations of social phenomena such as the current rise of populism. What works better is the kind of multicausality explanation provided by the hexagon model. The paper evaluates this claim, first, with a general discussion on the role of each of the six power sources and, second, with country case analyses on victorious populist movements in the US and India and a strong right-wing populist opposition movement in Europe, i.e., The Finns in Finland. In all these cases the political power source and fight for restricting all or many citizenship rights to the ethnic or religious or cultural majority group of the country in question are central to the movement. Yet political factors alone could not have triggered the movement.

Mahmut Mutman, IASR, Tampere University

Islamist Populism: The Double Bind of Secularism and the Staging of Cultural Identity

Taking my clue from Derrida’s observation of “the new form of the same fundamental structure” of sovereignty in modernity, I would like to argue that the challenge of Islamist populism reveals and hides at the same time the paradoxes of modern politics, the riddle of cultural difference and the class dynamics of capitalist crisis. By returning to the Western “worlding” of Islam in colonial orientalist inscription, I will underline how its political theology is only reinforced by modern secularism’s double bind. Drawing on Marx and Foucault, I will demonstrate how, far from being traditional or tradionalist, Islamist political theology is distinctly techno-rational in depending on the composite staging of a myth of identity, played between class and culture on the one hand, and the oppressor and the oppressed on the other.


The Media and Popular Culture

Updated 3 December 2019

Time: 16:30-18:00
Place: Tampere University, Pinni B 3111, Kanslerinrinne 1 3rd fl.

Session Chair
Robert Imre, TAPRI, Tampere University

Papers to be presented (subject to change):

Laura Ahva, Senior Research Fellow, IASR, Tampere University

How can journalism respond to populism?

Polarisation is a process where people organise around two opposing poles, “us” vs. “them”. Polarisation is also at the heart of populist rhetoric via the antagonistic set-up of “the people” vs. “the elite”. With the recent rise of populist movements, journalism is often faced with the challenge of reporting on polarised political and social issues. There is also a tendency in journalism to deepen polarisation, especially through the news value of conflict. Conflict is an appealing framework as it provides dramatic structure for the journalistic narrative, but especially in complex social issues, it is often a dire simplification, and can result in polarised representations of the topics. Therefore, populist rhetoric poses a challenge for journalism that can be easily be allured by populism’s polarised appeal but that should at the same time serve the public via providing analysis and criticism on current issues.

Therefore, in this presentation, I ask how journalism could resist the polarity of populist discourse and deal with it in a way that would allow journalists to avoid the traps of acting as mere loudspeakers for the populists; or dismissing the actual concerns that lie behind their claims; or becoming populist communicators themselves (Hatakka 2018).

By drawing from the framework of conflict mediation, I will discuss four practices that can help journalism to tackle the wicked problem of populist communication: (1) encountering, (2) diversity, (3) listening and (4) future orientation. There are various models of mediation, but the one that is most promising regarding journalism, is the transformative model, that does not necessarily aim in solving a conflict, but rather, transforming the conflict so that it becomes manageable and people we can live with it. In the presentation, I discuss the four practices and provide concrete examples of them, based on my experiences from an action research project with 50 journalists and students, in which we experimented with the ideas.

Norbert Merkovity, University of Szeged

The case of FIFA World Cup and the Hungarian television

Attention-based politics describes the process in which politicians use their communication to draw the attention of the biggest possible crowd of the audience (voters) to themselves or to the themes they propose in the multitude of information or news flows (Merkovity 2017; 2018). What do we know about this “attention” in the illiberal states? How media and politics interplay in attention-based politics. In order to analyse this, we chose Hungary as country for examination.

Television screen time during mega-events like the FIFA Football World Cup is probably one of the most valuable ad-spaces due to extremely high viewership. This opportunity did not go unnoticed by political parties, as evidenced by the broadcast of the 2016 Olympic Games in the Hungarian public media, when the government’s narrative on the refugee crisis was injected into the broadcast in every possible instance. This paper explores this phenomenon on the example of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The games were only broadcasted by the public media stations M4 and Duna TV and during each half-time break a one-minute long news block was shown. The transcripts of the newsreels are coded and analysed. The main purpose of these types of examinations is to identify whether the World Cup was used to convey political messages that are helping the government’s narrative and if yes, then to what extent. This aspect of research will help to determine how frequently the one-minute newsreels were used to disseminate fake news and/or Russian disinformation propaganda in Hungary.

Niko Hatakka, University of Turku

Populist logic in the hybrid media system: A theory of why populism fails to be a corrective for democracy

This theoretical paper outlines how the so called hybridization of the media system affects populism as a political logic of articulation and how this should be taken into consideration when analysing populism as a communication phenomenon.

If we want to understand the form and trajectory populist of mobilizations in the current media environment, we have to connect existing theoretical approaches used in populism research. The ideational, populism-as-style and political communication approaches explain “what populism is” and “how populism is done”. But in order for us to understand “what populism actually ends up doing”, we need to combine these approaches with the discourse theoretical approach coined by Ernesto Laclau.

This necessitates that we update our understanding of the role of media in diffusing populist political communication, especially to accommodate not only online communication but reciprocal interactivity between different actors involved in the communicational system, which I claim is essential for the form, contents and trajectory of populist movements.

Therefore I will present a new heurestic approach for analyzing the diffusion of populist political communication, which suggests that the hybridization of the media system affects not only how populism is being communicated but also what kinds of movements populist logic is likely to end up articulating.

And because of this, I argue that the hybrid media system will make populism less conducive to being a corrective for democracy. Meaning that the logics of the contemporary media environment actually might hinder populist movements’ chances of becoming legitimate channels for the institutionalization of unmet societal demands due to the amplification of their equivalential chains’ most controversial elements.