Since the 1980s, movements deemed populist have emerged across Europe and in the United States. The French National Front, to take one important example, won municipal elections as early as 1983. Populism thus has a history — and, perhaps a future as well. In recent years, a growing number of populist movements have either surfaced or broadened their base, claiming to represent the people, indigenous culture, and national sovereignty against cosmopolitan elites, the establishment, and immigrants. In France, having until now held off the victory of the National Front’s presidential candidates, the electoral glass ceiling may soon crack. Held two weeks before the first round of French 2017 presidential elections (April 23), this conference will take stock of the current ‘populist moment’—in France and elsewhere—as a historical phenomenon and an object of study. Established and emerging scholars from Europe and the U.S. will come together — along with journalists — to address questions of method and analysis in comparative perspective.
1. Panel: Sexual Politics
Friday, April 7, 1:00-3:00 p.m.
This panel will tackle a seeming paradox: in a number of European countries populist parties routinely oppose legislation dealing with LGBT or reproductive rights while presenting themselves as the ultimate shield against homophobia and sexism, which they associate with Muslim immigrants and citizens. Moreover, some of them even have female or openly gay male leaders. How can we make sense of these ‘sexual politics’ through a comparative lens?
With Kathleen Blee (University of Pittsburgh), Anika Keinz (European University Viadrina) and Cornelia Möser (CRESSPA, CNRS). Moderated by Hugo Bouvard (NYU).
2. Panel: Populism from Below: Ethnographers at Work
Friday, April 7, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Ethnographers and their comprehensive methods provide a deep understanding of populist sympathizers—who they are, how they see the social world, and how they have come to hold their views. But research in communities supporting populist movements poses unusual challenges to ethnographic fieldwork. How to select communities and subjects? How to overcome the profound and reciprocal moral distrust between ethnographers and their field subjects? How to distance oneself from the field experience? How, finally, to write for a readership, mostly academic and/or liberal, that holds populists’ views as immoral?
With Don Kalb (Central European University), Christèle Marchand-Lagier (Université d’Avignon) and Rachel Meade (Brown University). Moderated by Frédéric Viguier (NYU).
3. Keynote: A Populist Moment?
Friday, April 7, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
This keynote lecture will discuss the relevance of the term “populism” as well as the adjectives that can be adjoined to it: conservative, far-right, social, liberal. How such terms help us make sense of the way populism permeates mainstream political discourse? Can we talk about a deep-seated transformation that affects not only political officials but also 'public opinion'?
With Eric Fassin (Université Paris 8 – Vincennes – Saint Denis).
4. Panel: Populism and the Media: Journalists at Work
Saturday, April 8, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
This panel of reporters and editors will draw from their personal experiences to explore the relationship between the media and populist parties. Panelists will ponder, first, whether such parties interact with the media and alter the conditions of reporting in generalizable ways. Second, they will reflect on the specific challenges of covering parties that may reject civic consensus and denounce or even threaten journalists. Does such coverage justify elements of advocacy journalism? How, moreover, do journalists guard against their own fears, convictions, and prejudices? Finally, panelists will weigh the idea that the current populist moment owes a great deal to media operations that — given the rise of online and social media and the crisis of print and mainstream outlets — speak increasingly for the vox populi and favor affecting stories about immigration or political theater over engagement with complexity.
With Clare Malone (Fivethirtyeight.com, USA), Sofia Papaioannou (Alpha TV, Greece), Michael Slackman (New York Times, USA) and Marine Turchi (Mediapart, France). Moderated by Stéphane Gerson (NYU).
Organized by the Institute of French Studies in collaboration with the Center for French Civilization and Culture. With the support of the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies