Populism in Action’s Research Fellows and Assistants Discuss Their Favourite Blog Posts

A key objective of the Populism in Action Project has been to inform non-academic expert and wider public understanding of the populist radical right phenomenon in contemporary Europe, with a particular focus upon internal party organisation.

Since 2019 our Research Fellows and Assistants have played a key role in doing this through social media, at events and appearances on old and new media alike. They have also penned numerous short and incisive articles and blog posts, not least for publication on the Populism in Action website.

In the post below they reflect upon this strand of our work and choose their favourite blog post, written for the project’s website:

Donatella Bonansinga (University of Birmingham) – Project Research Assistant 2021-

“How do populists respond to growing insecurities?”

Looking at Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, this blog post remarked the complexity of the relationship between populism, insecurity and emotions. It pointed out that both populists on the right and on the left engage with narrations of insecurity, using an array of positive and negative emotional appeals such as fear, anger, pride and hope. In doing so, populists perform ‘emotional governance’ and help citizens make sense of reality via specific interpretative cues. I enjoyed writing this piece because the relationship between populism, insecurity and emotions is complex and multidimensional, however it can be misunderstood and downplayed as mere manipulation. To this extent, interdisciplinary research is vital to help us better understand how populists address the insecurities usually linked to their appeal.

Dr. Adrian Favero (University of Groningen) – Switzerland focused Research Fellow 2019-21

“How COVID Caused the Swiss Radical Right to Tie Itself in Knots”

I like this article because it both demonstrates how the populist right wing party SVP (Swiss People’s Party) reacts to an immediate problem and shows how they balanced being in government with acting as the opposition at times. The article is timely and provides insights into the larger area of right wing populism and the politicization of the Covid 19 crisis.

Dr. Niko Hatakka (University of Birmingham) – Finland focused Research Fellow 2019-

The Finns Party: Free Rein or Reining In?

This post summarises key findings from my fieldwork within the organisation of the Finns Party. The text describes how the Finns Party has adopted a mass-party-type organisational model that is complemented with online activism. Whereas establishing a geographically comprehensive and well-rooted organisation on the ground has provided stability and structure to the party, social media have allowed activists and party sympathisers to both boost and contribute to the party’s message on their own terms. This has not only provided the party with significant resources but also forced it to deal with repercussions that arise from not being able to enforce message discipline. The text can also be read as an extended abstract or an introduction to the full research published in Politics and Governance.

Dr. Judith Sijstermans (University of Edinburgh) – Belgium (Flanders) focused Research Fellow 2019-21

“Beyond Underrepresentation: Women’s Roles and Gender Politics in Flanders’ Populist Radical Right”

This blog seeks to add nuance to the discussion of the (lack of) women in the populist radical right. I consider not only descriptive gender representation but the substance of women’s activism and gendered/family policies. This blog highlights our project’s ability to dig beneath the headlines about the populist radical right. After the blog was written, I continued discussions with Vlaams Belang activists, asking explicitly about gender imbalances. Importantly, this forced me to be reflexive in my own methods. There are inherent barriers to engaging in academic research. Taking part in our interviews requires an hour of free, quiet, online time. Politically active women are likely to juggle party roles with jobs, caring work, and social/emotional labour. The demands of an extra hour, on top of these other responsibilities, may be prohibitive and this inhibits our ability to see and account for them in political research.

Dr. Mattia Zulianello (University of Trieste) Italy focused Research Fellow 2019-21

“Italy’s League: A Modern Mass Party”

This is my favourite blog post because it presented some initial insights from my 2-years of fieldwork on Salvini’s League. The blog post discusses the centralized nature of the party, which is pretty much grounded on the organizational principle of democratic centralism, like the old Bossi’s Northern League. Furthermore, the blog post highlights how Salvini’s League was able to modernize the mass-party organizational model by exploiting new technologies. This latter point was then explored in more detail in my article published in Politics and Governance where I conceptualised the continuous interaction between traditional and 2.0 activism in the League as a form of ‘phygital activism’.