The three day conference on Populism as movement and rhetoric finished last Saturday with “Popparin Populismi”, a publicly open discussion event in the centre of Jyväskylä. There populism was examined by a panel consisting of professor Anu Koivunen (University of Stockholm), Professor Sirpa Leppänen (University of Jyväskylä), Emeritus Professor Erkki Vainikkala (University of Jyväskylä)and literature critic and politician Eila Tiainen. The panel was chaired by the science editor Riitta Koikkalainen.
The conference was a highly stimulating event with great presentations, and we the organizers want to send are thanks to all the participants of the conference who made this possible. Likewise, we would like to thank the volunteers who helped us to organize the conference and made sure that everything ran smoothly during it.
In the conference, populism was discussed from multiple points of view and in an interdisciplinary atmosphere. In addition to multiple angles to populism, number of accounts were presented about different kinds of populism which vary by the location, time, and their logics of construction. It was, for instance, questioned if populism is the same in Eastern and Western Europe. Moreover, populism was examined as historical phenomenon as well.
Consequently, one of the main teams running through the conference was the question what populism actually is. It was pondered if populism is strategy, ideology or perhaps identifiable by the social logic in accordance which it is constructed.
The conference was started by the welcoming words by the Dean of the faculty humanities, Minna-Riitta Luukka, and dr. Urpo Kovala, the leader of the “populism as movement and rhetoric”-project. In his speech Kovala highlighted the importance of the research on populism, posing also the question what could be the role of academics and researchers in the current political climate.
The opening words were followed by the first keynote lecture, given by the professor Mikko Lehtonen from the University of Tampere. Lehtonen discussed, with conjunctural approach, about the construction of populism currently in Finland and what elements have been part of its rise.
What’s populism and what it’s not was also the name of the one of the two spotlights held in the conference. In the “What’s Populism and what it’s not”, chaired by the Emeritus Professor Erkki Vainikkala, the panel discussed about the nature of populism.
The nature of populism was central also in the third keynote, held by the professor Yannis Stavrakakis from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where he discussed about the construction of populism and the social logic behind it. Drawing from Lacaan, Laclau and Saussere, professor Stavrakakis theorized how it is typical to populism to be constructed on antagonism and polarization.
The second spotlight was devoted to gender and populism. The spotlight “Is Populism gendered?” was chaired by the dr.Tuija Saresma and professor Sirpa Leppänen. In this session, the discussion centred around the relative absence of gender in research on populism, as well as how and why gender and populism merits particular attention. In addition, it was pondered why are the female populist leaders becoming more prevalent and how are they presented in media. Also intersectionality as approach, as well the need to analyse populist rhetoric and mobilisation as gendering phenomenon were brought up.
The close relationship between media and populism was also under scrutiny in the conference. In the presentations, it was examined on the one hand how media presents populism and populists politicians, and on the other hand how media is also part of creating the imaginaries and stereotypes typical to the populist discourse. Fittingly, the racialization of the Roma people in Ireland by the media was the topic of the second keynote, given by the Professor Eoin Deveroux, from the University of Limerick.
The interdisciplinary nature of the conference guaranteed wide examination of the phenomenon of populism. Thus, In addition to discussing populism as gendered phenomenon and examining its construction in and out of media, the relationship between populism and religion as well populism and immigration and racialisation was also discussed in the conference. Moreover, the “popular” and the populism was under discussion in the session “Populism, art, performance”.
In the session “Populism and religion” it was pondered how the populist leaders use religious rhetoric in Finland and US likewise. In the session “Populism and hate speech” the relationship of these two was under scrutiny and it was pondered what hate speech is, how it relates to polarization typical to populism, and how it could be countered or addressed.
The counter-actions were central to the last keynote as well, given by the Professor Anu Koivunen from the University of Stockholm. In her keynote “Anti-populist affects? The political promise of the performative in contemporary Finland” Koivunen discussed about the Flashmob Finlandia, Loldiers of Odin, and the Sisters of Kyllikki as examples of performative politics and how they can create new ways of respond to populism in affective manner. In addition to offering an example and theorisation of “anti-populism”, the keynote of Koivunen highlighted the need to examine the current fascist and extreme right-wing movements, as well their relationship to populism, not excluding the manner they differ from populism.
Thus, even though populism has been and remains to be widely studied phenomenon, it is all but exhausted topic. Instead, it is multifaceted and contemporary topic which still requires examination.
Keynotes can be watched at: https://moniviestin.jyu.fi/ohjelmat/hum/taiku/en/populism-as-movement
All the abstracts of the conference: https://www.jyu.fi/en/congress/populistrhetoric2016/programme/abstracts_