Day two of the third ACRPS Winter School, “Variations in Populism”, opened with a lecture from Abdelwahab El-Affendi. Professor of Political Science and President of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. The lecture, titled “The War against Windmills: Populism and Conspiracy Narratives”, dissected common narratives of modern populist discourse, and analyzed how conspiracy narratives of insecurity have been vital to the rise and expansion of some of the major populist movements in the West. El-Affendi also looked briefly at similar populist trends in the Arab World, and the way they deploy similar narratives of “grand conspiracy” to give meaning to their otherwise pathologically self-destructive conduct. He concluded that, contrary to the opinion of theorists who maintain that populist movements are “rational” and even equate them with politics, populism is inherently anti-rational, if not outright irrational.
The closing lecture on day two was given by Daniel Stockemer, Konrad Adenauer Research Chair in Empirical Democracy Studies and Full Professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada, titled “Contagious Politics and COVID-19: Does the Infectious Disease Hit Populist Supporters Harder?” Taking Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro as an example of a typical right-wing populist, Stockemer shows, based on a survey, that Bolsonaro’s communication style and approach to crisis management have consequences for the behavioural patterns of his followers, which, in turn have public health implications: that his supporters are less likely to consider the pandemic as a key challenge for the country, less worried about getting infected, and less likely to wear masks. He concluded that there is a direct causal link between populist communication and the populist followers’ behaviour, which, in turn, can affect life and death.
The opening lecture for day three was given by Paul Taggart, Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex, titled “Foxes in the Chicken Coop? Three Strategies of Populists in Government”. Taggart examined recent experiences of populism across the world to develop a typology of populist strategies in office. He argued that the anti-establishment element of populism provides a particular challenge for populists in office: how can they maintain their populist credentials now they are part of the establishment that they have opposed? Taggart argued that there are three basic strategies: populists who have got into government either moderate or abandon their populism, seek to radically reshape the government, or else continue to behave like the opposition.
Later, Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser, Professor of Political Science at Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago de Chile, gave a lecture titled “Riding the Populist Wave: The Mainstream Right in Crisis”. Kaltwasser questioned the link between the future of democracy and the willingness of the mainstream right in Europe to adopt the agenda advanced by the populist radical right. Based on a recent edited volume, which combines qualitative case studies with large-N quantitative analysis, Kaltwasser argued that the European mainstream right is squeezed by the need to adapt to both “the silent revolution” (the spread of postmaterialist, liberal and cosmopolitan values) and the “silent counter-revolution” that has brought with it the rise of myriad far right parties offering populist and nativist answers to many of the continent's thorniest political problems.
Day four began with a lecture from Abdallah Saaf, Professor at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Social Science at Mohammed V University in Rabat, titled “On Populism(s) of the Arab World”. Professor Saaf presented the phenomenon of populism in the Arab context, emphasizing that populism is not a fixed term or element, rather, it is a variable term whose meaning depends on its context. Saaf presented the Tunisian case as an example and noted that populism there has special characteristics that distinguishes it from other forms of populism in the Arab Region, especially its similarities with the pervious authoritarian regime.
Day five began with a lecture by Abdelkarim Amengay, Assistant Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, on “Media Content and the Rise of Populism”. Using the French Front National as a case study, Amengay discussed the correlation between the salience of radical wing populist parties’ issues in the media and the votes cast for these parties.
Day six opened with a lecture by Nonna Mayer, CNRS Research Director Emerita at the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics of Sciences Po, titled “From Le Pen to Zemmour: Radical Right Populism in France”. Mayer described how Marie Le Pen, the leader of the right-wing French party “National Rally”, is being challenged by a new contender on the right, Eric Zemmour. She showed what these right-wingers have in common, what they stand for, who votes for them, what long and short-term factors explain their success or their failure, and to what extent they are a threat to democracy.
The Winter School also featured a virtual Roundtable titled “Forty Years After the Breakthrough of the ‘Third Wave’ of Populism,” chaired by Abdelkarim Amengay. The three main themes of discussion were the state of research on populism, populism and democracy, and the future of populism in the world. The discussion featured four distinguished scholars of populism—Cristobal Kaltwasser, Nonna Mayer, Daniel Stockemer, and Paul Taggart – alongside the other Winter School participants. Mayer began the discussion by reflecting on recent breakthroughs in scholarly research on populism, claiming that scholars now agree on a minimalist definition of populism and that populism is understood as plural, acknowledging the infinite varieties of populism on the left and right. She further stated that while we now have a better understanding of voters, more research is needed on political parties, their organization and agency, and the relationship between populism and religion, as well as populism and gender. Taggart agreed with Mayer and added that “we have a lot of cases that are falsely identified as populism and therefore we should be clear about what we are focusing on given the varieties of populism, as well as apply it historically.” Kaltwasser also noted that there has been an increase in research on populism across regions, with scholars attempting to utilize a common definition of populism in order to look into similarities and differences between various populist forces. However, according to Kaltwasser, one of the challenges in the research on populism is that there are few scholars who use a comparative approach. Stockemer concurred with Kaltwasser, stating that “what is crucial in the future is to explore comparisons and look into if there are similarities amongst populist voters in different parts of the world.”
This day concluded with a lecture by Narendra Subramanian, Professor of Political Science at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, titled “Indian Populisms in a Comparative-Theoretical Perspective”. Subramanian stated that conceptualizations of populism as a type of movement or party organization, policy or strategic orientation, or ideology are misleading, and the main feature of populist forces in India is that it is based mainly among the middle and lower castes. He concluded that despite its recent growth, Hindu nationalism is not primarily populist as it draws support more from upper and middling strata whose norms it promotes.
The Winter School will continue on Wednesday, 12 January and Thursday, 13 January, when both Angelos Chryssogelos, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the School of Social Sciences in London Metropolitan University will hold a lecture titled “Between People Power and State Power: The Ambivalence of Populism in International Relations”, and Nina Wiesehomeier, Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics at the School of Global and Public Affairs in IE University in Spain will present her lecture on “Measuring Populism with Expert Surveys.”