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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

Polarisation, Affect, Identity: Nordic Populism and the Media Landscape

Alternative title: Polarisering, affekt, identitet: Nordisk populisme og medielandskapet

Awarded: NOK 8.0 mill.

This project examines populism in the Nordic countries and its implications for democratic politics. Populism notoriously divides societies along cultural, social, and political lines through the construction and mobilisation of identities. By appealing to emotions that generate a sense of unity and belonging, populist leaders, parties and movements are able to create distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’. POL-AID combines a mix of theoretical and methodological approaches from different disciplines in order to grasp and map how identities of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are constructed specifically in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. We are particularly interested in the way that signifiers and symbols that previously were neutral become politicised within populist practices and discourses. Using bottom-up interpretative inquiry and cross-country comparison of medialised public discourse to examine cultural meaning-making practices, the project is interested in the following questions: • How can the study of populism be enhanced by combining performative and cultural approaches with techniques from rhetorical and discourse analysis while incorporating tools for studying hybrid media? • In what particular ways are identities and antagonisms constructed in each country and their different medialised fora and how do neutral symbols become objects of affective investment? • How can researchers and journalists rethink their roles and positions and actively work together to reverse power asymmetries that exclude and oppose certain groups and perspectives? POL-AID maps the antagonisms, identities, demands, symbols, and political frontiers articulated in Nordic populisms. It will generate innovative theories and methods and produce teaching materials, and resources for journalists to generate better understanding and awareness of populist practices.

This project seeks to rethink populist practices in the Nordic hybrid-media landscape. It is crucial to improve our understanding of populism since it continues to play a critical role in shaping politics and dividing societies along cultural, social, and political lines - even in the Nordic countries. Extant research is largely limited to measuring parties or voter attitudes presumptuously labelled as populist, or the ‘elite’ and ‘marginalised’ groups that populism produces. Tendencies to use populism as a pejorative term or blame or ridicule its adherents may increase polarisation. This project turns to investigate how populism creates and mobilises such political identities and divisions. Because POL-AID employs a rhetorical-performative perspective, it recognises and operationalises populism as a way of ‘doing’ politics that a) appeals to people’s emotions to generate a sense of unity and belonging to a ‘we’, as opposed to ‘them’; b) actively constructs such identities through affective investments in signifiers and symbols. POL-AID analyses such practices in four Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. It delivers interpretative analyses at the national level and comparative analyses at the Nordic level. To do so, POL-AID collects and compiles elaborate data material consisting of text, images, and video material from hybrid-media sources. By searching for populist practices in the broader media discourse beyond parliamentary parties, POL-AID can analyse populist performances where they take place rather than where we expect or assume them to be. This project exploits findings to train future journalists and other media practitioners in each of the four countries. This way, the project aids the development of media practices that are better equipped to deal with populist performances in ways that are fair, ethically sound, and protective of Nordic democratic values. This is necessary to avoid reifying various forms of exclusion and division.

Funding scheme:

SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell