UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Populist Mobilisation in Contemporary Social Movements

15 March 2021, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm

SSEES Research Student Seminar

A SSEES Research Student Seminar Series Event

This event is free.

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Populist rhetoric is becoming a leading mechanism of mobilisation within contemporary social movements. Our understanding of the phenomenon in contemporary politics, which we might define as “populist”, has many different interpretations. Populist politics might be considered in the context of anti-immigration on the one hand, and clientelism and economic mismanagement on the other.

Due to the party-political context of European countries in the 2010s, populism is usually seen as a top-down mobilisation strategy of right-wing leaders. Left-wing movements apply a bottom-up strategy of grassroots mobilisation that is similarly animated by populist rhetoric. My research aims to expand populist studies by overcoming the vision of populism that focuses on party-political development. It will bring together the psychological explanation of populism and theories of social movements to reconceptualise populism as a specific type of anti-elite discourse that appeals to the People.

The present work will compare populist rhetoric in Russia and European countries and, in this way, shape populist trends in both societies. Populism unites people across socio-economic levels, thus, an important element of my research will be to compare the protests maintained by different social classes (e.g. the protest in Russia in the 2010s was represented by relatively affluent citizens). My work aims to understand under what conditions the populist mobilisation strategy was efficient and could motivate a sustainable collective action, also under what conditions this strategy caused the decline of the protest activity. Results will suggest the use of populist rhetoric on the part of social movements’ activists who look for an appropriate discursive frame to include disparate social grievances.