The conference

peron2For many decades, the notion of ‘populism’ has been one of the most widely used, yet ambiguous, if not slippery categories of political theory and analysis, and more broadly of public discourse; it remains so today. Echoing traditional populist mobilizations – Agrarian populism in the US, the Narodniki in Russia, Peronism in Argentina, and so on – the last period has been marked by the emergence of neo-populist movements and parties, particularly of so-called ‘far-right populism’ in France, Austria and elsewhere. Today, in addition, in the midst of a rampant economic crisis, the debate over populism is undergoing a new and considerable twist within Western democracies. Dilemmas such as ‘populism or responsibility’, where ‘responsibility’ denotes an acceptance of orthodox economic policies while ‘populism’ is used to discredit resistances to austerity measures, illustrate this tendency.

On all these grounds, the problematic of populism acquires renewed importance for contemporary political science. Given, moreover, the long and continuing populist tradition in Greek political culture – from the populist PASOK of the 1970s and 1980s to the religious populism developed within the context of the ‘identity cards crisis’ (2000-2001) up to the so-called ‘youth populism’ of the radical left in recent years – this question becomes even more topical within the Greek research environment. Furthermore, in the context of public debates over the Memorandum(s) between Greece, European institutions and the IMF, one observes the establishment and reproduction of different forms of anti-populist discourse, which should also be systematically explored, mapped and evaluated.

occupy-vancouver-we-the-people-signThe conference, which was co-organised by the School of Political Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Hellenic Political Science Association seeked, first, to illuminate the conceptual status of the category ‘populism’ and its various uses, and, second, to sketch out the contours of contemporary ‘anti-populism’. It aimed at developing the theoretical tools that contemporary thought can offer for an incisive explanation of the importance of populism in the workings of democracy. An explanation which, while registering the often anti-democratic and anti-institutional character of many populist movements and parties, it increasingly recognises the important role played by the appeal to the ‘people’ in the symbolic constitution and affective investment of political identification and democratic participation. Moreover, the conference seeked to provide a mapping of the most important populist phenomena of our age and to pursue their comparative investigation. Finally, it thoroughly discussed the current transformation of the populist imaginary in Greek political discourse, as well as the proliferation and characteristics of anti-populist rhetoric.

The conference was sponsored by the Research Committee of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. 

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