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Vortrag: Collective emotional dynamics of right- and left-wing political populism

Mikko Salmela (University of Copenhagen & University of Helsinki)

31 May 2022 | 16:00

Habelschwerdter Allee 45 (Rostlaube)  |  KL 32/102

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Emotions are prevalent in the rhetoric of populist politicians and among their electorate. We argue that partially dissimilar emotional processes may be driving right- and left-wing populism. Existing research has associated populism with fear and insecurities experienced in contemporary societies, on the one hand, and with anger, resentment, and hatred, on the other. Yet there are significant differences in the targets of right- and left-wing resentment: A political and economic establishment deemed responsible for austerity politics (left) and political and cultural elites accused of favouring ethnic, religious, and sexual out-groups at the expense of the neglected ingroup (right). Referring to partially different emotional opportunity structures and distinct political strategies at exploiting these structures, we suggest that right-wing populism is characterized by shame or humiliation, either individual or group-based, that through political rhetoric as well as public and/or social media is repressed and transformed into collective anger, resentment, and hatred against perceived “enemies” of the precarious self as well as into collective pride in the group identity, defined in terms of new values. Left-wing populism, in turn, associates more with acknowledged and shared shame or humiliation, either individual or group-based, that allows individuals to identify themselves as aggrieved by neoliberal policies and their advocates. The latter type of shame holds emancipatory potential as it allows individuals to establish bonds through reciprocal empathy with others who feel the same and thus to overcome their shame, whereas the emotion regulation strategies of right-wing populism draw from shame and humiliation that are regularly revisited as evidence of morally superior victimhood that justifies anger, resentment and hatred towards the alleged victimizers.

Mikko Salmela is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen and an Adjunct Professor of Practical Philosophy and a Member of the Helsinki Hub on Emotions, Populism, and Polarisation (HEPP) at the University of Helsinki. His main research interests are in empirically informed philosophy of emotion, philosophical and political psychology, and philosophy of sociality.

Organized by CRC 1171 "Affective Societies" and Institute of Sociology

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