Call for papers: The Rhetoric of Populism: How to Give Voice to the People?

by admin on april 11, 2017

Internationale ontwikkelingen rondom de wereldwijde opkomst van het populisme vragen om een academische analyse van een multidisciplinair perspectief. Onderzoekers worden uitgenodigd om een bijdrage te leveren aan een bundel over ‘populist discourse’ bestudeerd vanuit argumentatietheorie, linguïstiek, literatuurwetenschap, retoriek, rechts- politieke en sociaal theorie.

Een voorstel voor een bijdrage, bestaande uit ongeveer 450 woorden, kan naar de redacteuren gestuurd worden voor 1 september. Een precieze uitwerking van de call is hieronder te vinden. Voorstellen voor deel 1 kunnen verzonden worden naar  Ingeborg van der Geest:; voor deel 2 naar Bart van Klink:; en voor deel 3 naar Henrike Jansen:

Call for papers
The Rhetoric of Populism: How to Give Voice to the People?
Bart van Klink (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Ingeborg van der Geest (Utrecht University) and Henrike Jansen (Leiden University).
Possible contributors
Researchers in the field of Linguistics, Literature Studies, Legal, Political and Social Theory.
An international, renowned publishing house (for instance, Edward Elgar or Routledge).

Firstly, the editors will make a selection of papers on the basis of the following criteria: (i) academic quality, (ii) suitability for the main theme and subthemes of the volume and (iii) originality both in content and approach. Secondly, a final book proposal including the papers selected will be sent to the publisher. Thirdly, the publisher will assess the book proposal. Finally, if the book proposal has been approved, the authors will be invited to write a paper. Each paper will be assessed by two peer reviewers (double-blind). The editors will decide, on the basis of the reviews, which papers will be included in the edited volume.
A paper proposal (approx. 450 words) can be sent to the editors before the 1st of September. Please send a proposal for the first part to Ingeborg van der Geest:; for the second part to Bart van Klink:; and for the third part to Henrike Jansen:

• 1 September 2017: Deadline paper proposals
• Autumn 2017: Selection of the paper proposals + final book proposal
• Spring 2018: 1st workshop: discussion of paper proposals with authors
• Autumn 2018: 2nd workshop: discussion of first drafts with authors
• Winter 2018: Double-blind reviews
• Spring 2018: Final concept-version papers
• Summer 2019: Publication and a conference for a general audience

Central questions
I. How can populist discourse be characterized, both in terms of its content and its form?
II. How can populist discourse be criticized from a normative (legal, political and/or social) perspective?
III. Which counter-strategies can be employed against populist discourse, which persuasive counter-narratives can be construed?

The volume addresses the rhetoric of populism from a multidisciplinary perspective. In the first part, a characterization of populist discourse will be given by means of linguistics, argumentation theory and rhetoric. In the second part, populist discourse will be assessed from the viewpoint of legal, political and/or social theory. The third part will bring the various perspectives together: By which linguistic, argumentative and (other) rhetorical means could a successful counter-discourse be construed that persuasively contests the claims of populist discourse and presents an appealing alternative?

In the last decades, populist discourse has disseminated itself rapidly in the political sphere and in society at large. Populist discourse seems to pose a radical challenge to mainstream politics based on a notion of liberal democracy. However, populist discourse does not necessarily reject democracy or the Rule of Law out of hand; it endorses alternative conceptions thereof which diverge from mainstream liberal thought. Invoking the notion of popular sovereignty, it seeks to replace or supplement representative, parliamentary democracy by direct forms of democracy that present  the will of the people in an undistorted and unmediated way. Typically, a charismatic leader acts and speaks on behalf of the people. Populist discourse posits and cultivates a distinction between the “homogeneous and virtuous people” on the one hand and elites and “dangerous ‘others’” (for instance, Muslims or immigrants) on the other hand, who are assumed to deprive the people of their “rights, values, prosperity, identity, rights and voice” (Albertazzi & McDonnell 2007: 3). Moreover, it has no patience for the complex bureaucratic operations of the modern state; it prefers instead “straightforward and ‘common sense’ solutions to society’s complex problems” (ibid.: 21). It is willing to suspend fundamental rights and to deny them to others, when the people’s security, prosperity or identity is at stake. In contrast to the “Establishment’s politics of pragmatism,” it offers a “politics of redemption” (ibid.: 2), which promises to regain – after some sacrifices – an imagined ‘paradise lost’ when the people were one and living happily and peacefully together.
This edited volume aims at understanding populist discourse as it manifests itself in various countries in Western Europe and the United States. What are its central claims and how are they presented, by means of which rhetorical means? How to account for its appeal? What are the normative concerns of those who oppose populist discourse? Why and in which respects does it constitute a challenge to current notions of liberal democracy? And how can populist discourse be countered? What could be successful rhetorical counter-strategies?

The volume consists of three parts which address the three main questions regarding (i) the content and form of populist discourse, (ii) the critique it engenders within legal, political and social theory, and (iii) the construction of a successful counter-discourse. There will be approx. 15 chapters in the volume – part I: 7, part II: 4 and part III: 4 chapters.

In the first part, populist discourse will be characterized by looking both at its content – that is, its central claims and the arguments given – and its form – that is, the way it presents and defends its central claims by using rhetorical devices such as ad populum and ad hominem arguments, metaphor, hyperbole, antithesis, framing, direct or vulgar language and other linguistic devices such as the strategic use of intensifiers, pronouns and syntactic positions. The volume aims to present a range of case studies from, for instance, Germany (Alternative für Deutschland), Denmark (Folkeparti), France (Front National), Hungary (Fidesz), The Netherlands (PVV), Poland (PiS), United Kingdom (UK Independence Party) and USA (Trump). Preferably, various cases will be compared in order to explore the similarities and differences between the various instances of populist discourse.
Central questions
• What are the key themes and claims in populist discourse (logos)? How can its central ideology be characterized? What arguments are provided, or strategically chosen, to support its central claims?
• What are the main rhetorical (linguistic, paralinguistic, non-verbal) devices used inpopulist discourse in order to support its central claims?
• How is the relation between the party (or party leader) and the people construed in populist discourse? What view of democratic (re)presentation does it involve?
• How is the relation between the (nation) state and society construed? What does the “identity politics” offered in populist discourse consist of?
• How does populist discourse relate itself to the Rule of Law? How do populists balance their aim to persuade the public on the one hand and their aim to abide with the law on the other hand?
• How is political authority (ethos) construed in populist discourse? How does the political leader present him- or herself?
• What audiences do populists address? How do they adjust their contributions to the preferences of these audiences? To what kind of feelings do they appeal and how do they address these  feelings (pathos)?
• How to account for the popularity of populist discourse? What makes it, at least in some parts of society, a persuasive narrative?
• How does populist discourse contest established facts? How does it present and defend its own (alternative) facts?
• How does populist discourse make use of specific media (social media, television, meetings with voters) to convey its message?

In the second part, populist discourse is evaluated from a normative perspective drawn from legal, political and/or social theory. In particular, its underlying conceptions of democracy, Rule of Law and constitutionalism, will be assessed critically, including how it construes the relation between the party (or party leader) and the people and between the state and society. According to Müller (2016: 103), populism constitutes a “real danger to democracy (not just to ‘liberalism’)”. In his view, it is “a degraded form of democracy that promises to make good on democracy’s highest ideals” (Müller 2016: 6). Democracy is based on the promise that the people can rule. In political reality, this promise can never be fulfilled. However, populist discourse thrives on the pretence that it can give back power to the people, that is the ‘real’ people as opposed to foreign people or to the elite. The ‘real people’ is, as Müller (ibid.: 27) puts it, an “fictional entity outside existing democratic procedures, a homogeneous and morally unified body whose alleged will can be played off against actual election results in democracies”. What exactly are dangers of invoking this kind of symbolic representation?
Central questions
• In what respect and to what extent does populist discourse pose a radical challenge to current notions of democracy, the Rule of Law and constitutionalism?
• Why has the populist idea of direct (re)presentation of the people’s will to be resisted?
• According to Müller (2016), populism is not necessarily opposed to the notion of a constitution, but it may construe a constitution of its own. How to evaluate a populist or “partisan” constitution from the viewpoint of constitutionalism?
• Is populist discourse a kind of totalitarianism as described and criticized by Lefort (1988)? Why has the place of power to remain empty, as Lefort claims? And can it remain empty?
• Why has the populist quest for homogeneity to be rejected and to what extent can liberal democracy give room to pluralism?
• To what extent is it useful to distinguish ‘left wing’ from ‘right wing’ populism? Should these types of populism be evaluated differently?
• Why is it important to hold on to established facts and to refute so-called alternative facts?
• How to address the populist claim that a critique of populist discourse is an ideological instrument to reinforce the power of the elite excluding the ‘real’ people?

In the last part, building on the characterization and evaluation of populist discourse in part II and III, rhetorical strategies are presented that may counter the populist discourse. These strategies aim at presenting a different understanding of democracy, Rule of Law and constitutionalism, as well as the relation between the party (or party leader) and the people, and state and society. Müller claims that political actors have the obligation to engage with populists, as long as they abide with the law. However, as he adds: “Talking to populists is not the same as talking like populists. One can take their political claims seriously without taking them at face value” (Müller 2016: 83-84). According to him, it is possible to engage with populist on a symbolic level. However, how can one talk to people with very different world views and value orientations and who reject widely accepted facts and produce instead ‘facts’ of their own?
Central questions
• How could or should the claims of populist discourse be rejected or refuted? What would be the role of rhetoric in this critical exercise?
• How to present a persuasive counter-discourse building on alternative (liberal or other) notions of democracy, Rule of Law and constitutionalism?
• What kind of arguments (logos) can be used against populist argumentation?
• What kind of authority (ethos) should be set up against populist discourse and how?
• Which kind of emotions (pathos) should be mobilized against populist discourse and how?
• Which kind of linguistic devices would yield a strategic presentation of these means of persuasion?
• To what extent would it be justified to refute populist claims employing strategies that are also used in populist discourse? Would it make sense in this context to distinguish ‘good’ populism from ‘bad’ populism?
• To what extent can or should populist discourse be challenged before the court? Or should the debate take place outside the law, in the political sphere and in society at large?

Daniele Albertazzi & Duncan McDonnell (eds.), Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2007.
Claude Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory (translated by David Macey), Cambridge: Polity 1988.
Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism?, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2016

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