Plenary session V – Populist Persuasions

Organised by:
Felix Girke (Universität Konstanz)

Speakers: 
Insa L. Koch (London School of Economics and Political Science)
Chris Hann (MPI für ethnologische Forschung)
Mario Krämer (Universität Siegen)

Dienstag, 2.10., 11.30-13.00 Uhr

Politics is a fundamentally rhetorical space, but populist rhetoric stands apart: It seeks broad appeal while at the same time side-stepping the liberal agreement that open negotiations must be the basis of decisions. Populists reject dialectics and discourse ethics, seek to flatten complexity, peddle simple solutions, reject hesitation and deliberation, and draw clear lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The aim is to deny the very idea that alternatives are viable, desirable, or effective, and to delegitimize efforts of pluralistic engagement. These perennial qualities of ‘methodological populism’ (de Sardan 2015) are exacerbated in what has come to known as today’s ‘post-factual’ or ‘post-truth’ environment of liquefying modernity, where even scientific findings are classed as just one non-privileged opinion among many. Thus understood, the charge of ‘populism’ is commonly used by elites to denigrate their political opponents; but some critics (e.g. Leggewie 2017) consider populist movements the direct result of anemic contemporary neoliberal governance. As Samet and Schiller emphasize (2017), populism is a response to tendencies that privilege ‘liberal norms, institutions, and procedures’ over popular will: ‘If populism is dangerous, then this is not despite its democratic credentials, but because of them.’ But Gusterson (2017) has articulated a challenge for social anthropology: We know too little about the people who accept this brand of rhetoric in general. Who even are ‘the Conservative Others’ who self-identify as underdogs in their national contexts and the cosmopolitan globalized world? This plenary inquires into the positionality of social anthropology in terms of theory, ethnography, and public engagement towards both the production of populist rhetoric and its reception. We seek to integrate into this wider debate the creative adaptations, rejections, transformations and other responses that seek to establish a populism of the left as endorsed by Mouffe or Frazer that embraces diversity and a democracy that is not defined in ethno-religious or ‘neo-nationalist’ terms.

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