The 17th Thesis Eleven Annual Lecture (July 2018) presented by the Thesis Eleven Forum for Social and Political Theory
Dr Emilia Palonen, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Helsinki, Finland
Populism and Democracy in Contemporary Europe
Populism and the contemporary emergence of populist movements represent a challenge to traditional politics globally. In Europe, empty-spaced populism – entangling with nationalism and anti-austerity politics – is setting a serious challenge to status quo of integration. Populism is not simply an ideology. An immanent reading of Ernesto Laclau’s work enables us to see how it is an articulation made of affects, conflict, and the political articulation of “us”. Exploring populism deals with dynamics and moments of populism, and the relationship of populism and democracy. Yet, from a radically democratic perspective, populism is not an external challenge to democracy as such but a Janus-faced part of it. Populism has a democratic ethos. The new movements demonstrate how politics is about democracy not socio-economic demography. Instead of TINA argumentation, politics is about generating alternatives even through conflicts. This is what populist movements in Europe left and right claim. Yet, when populism institutionalises – particularly through ‘clientism’ and control of the media – its radical democratic edge flips away. The cases from contemporary Europe that I am examining show how populist movements emerge with different dynamics from that of fringe, mainstream, and even bi-polar competing populism and polarisation and in turn transform what we have come to understand as the traditional forms and practices of modern liberal democratic politics.
Emilia Palonen teaches politics at the University of Helsinki, engaging on populism and democracy at the Academy of Finland funded consortium Mainstreaming Populism in the 21st Century. In the past, she has held fellowships at Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, Collegium Budapest, Humboldt University in Berlin. After her MA and PhD in Ideology and Discourse Analysis (Essex) she visited the Northwestern University with the late Ernesto Laclau. She has a BA in Contemporary East European Studies (London). She has authored articles and book chapters on Hungary and Europe, politics of memory and discourse analysis, and edited volumes on populism such as the e-volume Populism on the Loose (2018). As an expert on Hungarian politics, she studied Ágnes Heller for a volume Decentering European Intellectual Space (2018). She engages on platinum open access for academic journals and launched op-ed publication for the Finnish Political Science Association that she currently chairs.