UCL European Institute


Populism in Historical Perspective

11 November 2016, 12:00 am


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11 November 2016
From Brexit to Syriza, and from Trump to Alternative für Deutschland, the rise of populism in recent years has attracted significant interest among scholars, the public and the media alike. Yet the attention given to these examples obscures populism's historical context and the relevance of its legacies in the twentieth and twenty first century. This conference aims to historicise the phenomenon of populism, locating it within an analysis of modern and contemporary politics, and more broadly within the development of modern mass society since the nineteenth century.

11 November 2016

Common Ground
UCL Institute of Advanced Studies
South Wing, UCL Main Building
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

The event is free but please email us to let us know you're coming.

This conference will address the topic of twentieth- and twenty-first century populism across a broad geographical range. It brings together historians, political scientists and sociologists to analyse the historical dynamics of the phenomenon and explore the factors that shape its form and apparent recent upsurge.

The symposium is organised by the UCL European Institute, in cooperation with the UCL Centre for Transnational History and the Passionate Politics Research Group.


09:00-09:30am Coffee & registration
9.30-11am Panel 1: 'The People'
Chair: Harry Stopes, UCL History
  Populists tend to portray themselves as standing for the marginalised. Yet they seek to be majoritarians, and their coalitions often encompass a large range of publics, characteristically cutting across divides (socio-economic, cultural, regional, occupational) which other political formations treat as normative. What is the class composition of populist movements and to what extent is the formulation 'the people' used to shape a politics that lies outside class (or other) conflict? Who in turn lies outside the people?
  • Chetan Bhatt (LSE): Populism, Autoritharianism, Xenology: Recent Changes in the Relation between Formal Politics and Violence
  • Philippe Marliere (UCL): Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Incarnation of Left-Wing Populism in France?
  • Ken Cheng (UCL): From 'Proletariat' to 'People': Revolutionary Modernity and the Social-Democratic Origins of European Populism
11.00-11.30am Tea break
11.30am-1.00pm Panel 2: 'Values of Populism'
Chair: Uta Staiger, UCL European Institute
  Populists characterise themselves as defenders of a particular set of values, often under attack by a distant elite. What social structures, cultural practices and economic interests shape these values? How do these values translate into political decisions? How do they inform notions of legitimacy, democracy, and authoritarianism.
  • Mara Sankey (UCL): Treating Populism with Populism? US Democracy Promotion in Latin America, 1980-89
  • Andrew W.M. Smith (UCL): 'Because the Past Flows into the Future': Wine, Europe and the Lure of Populism in Béziers (1984-2014)
  • Tom Arnold-Forster (Cambridge): The Scopes Trials and American Populism
Lunch break
2.00-3.30pm Panel 3: 'Languages of Populism'
Chair: Alessandro De Arcangelis, UCL History
  Populism often deploys the language of 'common sense', both as a persuasive rhetorical tool and an articulation of the subjectivity of a group which feels it has been neglected or ignored. How are these knowledges formed, communicated and mobilised? What is the role of the media, both as a mouthpiece for populist politics, a force in shaping the context in which it emerges, or as a focus for anger on the part of publics. What role have new forms of media played in allowing contemporary populists to communicate with their publics?
  • Thomas Niehr (Aachen): The Language of Populism: A Multi-Dimensional Phenomenon
  • Elinor Taylor (Westminster): On Populist Realism: the Novel of the British Popular Front
  • Marko Grdesic (Zagreb): Constructing 'the People' in Late Socialist Serbia: the Case of Letters to the Press
3.30-4.00pm Tea break

Plenary Session

Maxine Molyneux (UCL) & Thomas Osborne (Bristol): Populism, Liberalism and History: a Deflationary View

5.30-6.30pm Wine reception

 If you have any questions, please email Alessandro De Arcangelis or Harry Stopes.