ECPS organized its third virtual Summer School on July 3-7, 2023, focusing on the interaction between populism and crises which were categorized into five groups: political crisis, economic crisis, cultural crisis, environmental crisis, and health crisis. Keeping in mind that crises vary in nature, and each has different consequences depending on the conjuncture in which they emerge, Summer School examined these five groups by taking into account the repercussions of the current international political context, particularly the war in Ukraine.
ECPS organized its third virtual Summer School on July 3-7, 2023, focusing on the interaction between populism and crises. Our world is going through turbulent times on many fronts struggling with complex challenges emanating from various crises in different spheres of life, and these crises create convenient environments for populist politics. In line with this, in recent years, we have observed the emergence and success of populist parties in a number of countries, and this number is on the rise, including in Europe. These developments align with the conclusion that populism usually occurs within a crisis scenario (Laclau, 1977: 175). Thus, we decided to discuss the relationship between crises and populism at this year’s Summer School. To this end, for practicality, we categorized contemporary crises into five groups and analyzed them accordingly: political crisis and populism, economic crisis and populism, cultural crisis and populism, environmental crisis and populism, and health crisis and populism. Keeping in mind that crises vary in nature, and each has different consequences depending on the conjuncture in which they emerge, we examined these five groups by taking into account the repercussions of the current international political context, particularly the war in Ukraine.
The lecturers for this year’s Summer School were Professor Kai Arzheimer, Professor Jocelyne Cesari, Professor Sergei Guriev, Dr Heidi Hart, Dr Gideon Lasco, Professor Nonna Mayer, Professor John Meyer, Professor Ibrahim Ozturk, Professor Neil Robinson, and Professor Ewen Speed. The program took place on Zoom, consisting of two sessions each day. Over the course of five days, interactive lectures by these world-leading experts discussed from various angles the nexus between populism and the crises we face today.
The opening lecture of Prof Kai Arzheimer explained how populists often benefit from events that are not crises in a strict sense but are framed as such. In turn, populist policies may lead to genuine political crises. The following lecture, carried out by Prof Neil Robinson, addressed contemporary ‘official populism’ developed in Russia in the 2010s and how certain elements of this ‘official populism’ is being contested by new actors following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
By Dr Kai Arzheimer
By Dr Neil Robinson
The third and fourth lectures, presented by Prof Ewen Speed and Dr Gideon Lasco, focused on the complex and contradictory topic of medical populism. Drawing on the work of Laclau, Prof Speed’s session considered how medical populism (particularly from the right) has been developed and used in the context of broader political struggles (e.g., around vaccination or abortion); while Dr Lasco’s presentation reviewed and critically engaged with the concept of medical populism, its elements of spectacularization, simplification, and forging of divisions, as well as the literature on its figurations during the pandemic in different countries.
By Dr Ewen Speed
By Dr Gideon Lasco
Moving onto the issue of economic crisis and populism, on the third day, Prof Ibrahim Ozturk talked about the abuse of the negative repercussions of an unmanaged globalization in economics by the populists. His engaging lecture was followed by an 8-part presentation by Dr Sergei Guriev on populism, its evolution, the role of secular economic factors related to cross-border trade and automation, the 2008–09 global financial crisis and subsequent austerity, a discussion on studies on identity politics, trust, and cultural backlash, the gap between perceptions and reality regarding immigration, and the impact of the internet and social media.
By Dr Ibrahim Ozturk
By Dr Sergei Guriev
Tackling the relationship between environmental crisis and populism, Dr Heidi Hart’s speech noted pro-business climate denialism and the surprising overlap between left and far-right ecological activism in Europe and also traced the history of illiberal environmentalism through the Nazi period in Germany to contemporary appropriations of “deep ecology,” with several examples from popular culture that make this ideology more appealing than it might at first appear. Following, Prof Jocelyne Cesari addressed the difference between religious nationalism and populism, highlighted the importance of political history and secular cultures on the political role of religion in any given country, and talked about the international and transnational religious forms of populism.
By Dr Heidi Hart
By Dr Jocelyn Cesari
On the final day of the Summer School, Prof Nonna Mayer revisited and nuanced the explanations of right-wing populism in terms of cultural backlash and cultural insecurity, taking the French case as an example. The closing lecture of Prof John M. Meyer discussed the entanglements of climate change politics with populism and argued that opportunities for effective climate change action could be found in a more encompassing conception of populism, one rooted in an inclusive conception of “the people,” and an embrace of counter-expertise grounded in local knowledge of climate vulnerability and injustice.
By Dr Nonna Mayer
By Dr John M. Meyer
This year’s program was participated by around 50 attendees from all over the world with various backgrounds. They found the opportunity to engage in discussions with the lecturers on the topics mentioned, and they networked with each other in small groups and practiced peer-to-peer learning in a diverse international environment. At the end of the program, participants were offered the possibility of becoming part of a lasting academic and professional network through ECRN (Early Career Researchers’ Network) and the ECPS Youth.
Case Competition on Populism and Cultural Crisis in Ukraine
The Summer School also included a case competition scheduled as a five-day program between 3-7 July. The aim was to provide a unique learning environment to the participants in which they would learn how to transform their academic knowledge into feasible policy suggestions.
The Competition tackled a real-life problem within the broad topic of populism, crises, and war, more specifically on Populism and Cultural Crisis in Ukraine. One of the most burning contemporary issues of populism, crises and war is connected to war-torn Ukraine at the moment; therefore, the focus of the case was Ukraine. The groups were expected to draw a broad picture of the current cultural policy of Ukraine by considering the historical and political background and then to choose a specific issue such as the politics of identity, language, cultural symbols, locations where culture constitutes a delicate/problematic matter, Russia’s cultural influence, Ukraine’s pro-western politics and more.
Participants were divided into teams to work together on solving the case and were expected to prepare policy suggestions. The proposals of the participants were then evaluated by an assessment committee composed of scholars and experts based on criteria such as creativity, feasibility, and presentation skills. On the first day of Summer School, ECPS provided the groups with an information pack that included documents and sources that outlined the case and its context. (Please consult this document for detailed information.) Moreover, each day, a one-hour-long consultation session was arranged for the competitors when the teams could discuss their progress and partake in the case-solving activity together. On the final day of the competition, short presentations were carried out and thoroughly evaluated by the assessing committee, which gave valuable feedback to the attendees.
Participants had to position themselves as a member of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy advisory board, responsible for advising on the country’s cultural policy. According to the scenario, the board comprised academics, experts, opinion leaders, journalists, writers, artists, civil society members, high-level bureaucrats, lobbyists, and policymakers, and each group should determine its role on the board, which in this situation, had its upcoming annual meeting. During this meeting, members evaluate and critique the previous years’ policies and suggest amendments or new policies.
As a group, case competition teams chose a specific policy of the current government in a particular location; they tried to figure out how politics interacts with culture and how it influences Ukrainian relations with the EU and Russia, as well as discussed the shortcomings of Ukraine’s cultural policy and elaborated on what kind of policy would be in the country’s best interest. While crafting their suggestions, groups had to remember that the country is at war with Russia and enjoys Western support, particularly from the EU. Therefore, understanding the EU’s current approach to the cultural issues in Ukraine and if the approach needs to be revised were also among the main considerations of the participants.
The Groups and the Winning Project
The participants were divided into seven competing groups, each named after a symbolic Ukrainian city (Kherson, Lviv, Kharkiv, Poltava, Lugansk, Odesa, Mariupol). The teams tackled a wide range of cultural policy issues in Ukraine, such as the protection of minority rights, the conservation of collective memory of war through the creation of commemorative sites, the proposal of a cultural awareness campaign, the protection of Ukrainian cultural heritage through artistic freedom of expression against the war, the preservation of cultural sites of Odesa and active involvement of citizens in the conservation of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ukraine, and the introduction of a post-war Legislative Framework for Minority Language Protection. The winning Lviv team presented a case on Decommunization in Ukraine: Policy Recommendation for a Balanced Approach and was awarded a special recognition document for their outstanding performance.
All in all, our five-day schedule provided young people with a dynamic, engaging, and interdisciplinary learning environment with an intellectually challenging program presented by world-class scholars of populism, allowing them to grow as future academics, intellectuals, activists and public leaders. Participants had the opportunity to develop invaluable cross-cultural perspectives and facilitate a knowledge exchange beyond European borders.
Feedbacks From Participants
“The Summer School was a great opportunity to learn a lot. I became acquainted with so many scholars and researchers and make connections during Q&A sessions as well as during the case competition. It was an amazingly fruitful week in all senses.”
Olena Siden, PhD Student in Philology, at Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
“This program is greatly insightful, inspirational and challenging in terms of how to deal with the highly complex phenomena of populism. It helps a lot for me to make intellectual reflection and recalibrate the specification of my research on populism.”
Hasnan Bachtiar, LLB. PhD student at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI), Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia and Director of Research at Rumah Baca Cerdas (RBC) Institute Abdul Malik Fadjar, Indonesia.
“The summer school on populism studies was very comprehensive, and all the sessions were filled with fascinating insights and perspectives. It helped me to explore every aspect of populism studies in detail and foster a deeper understanding of its complexities and implications. The interactive nature of the summer school was particularly commendable. The group discussion and case competition session allowed for engaging and stimulating conversations among participants. It has truly been an inspiring and transformative journey, and I am confident that the knowledge and insight gained will have a great impact on my academic and professional life.”
Shyam Kumar, Research Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India
“The lecturers who spoke on populism were remarkable, providing me with invaluable insights and perspectives. Additionally, the inclusion of a discussion room following the lectures was an excellent idea. It provided an opportunity for me to engage in fruitful discussions, seek clarification on any confusing aspects, and raise pertinent questions.”
Hilal Cibik, PhD Researcher in Legal Populism, Exeter University
“The sessions covered various aspects of populism, like, socio-political implications and its impact on contemporary democracies. The inclusion of multidisciplinary perspectives helped me gain a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. I particularly appreciated the quality of the instructors and their expertise in their respective fields. Their ability to present complex concepts in a clear and accessible manner greatly enhanced the learning experience. The interactive nature of the sessions, with opportunities for questions and discussions, fostered an engaging and collaborative environment that encouraged active participation. The selection of the case study provided us with valuable insight into the different manifestations of populism. One aspect that I found especially beneficial was the emphasis on critical thinking and analysis. The program challenged participants to examine populism from various angles, considering its advantages and drawbacks. This approach allowed for nuanced discussions and encouraged us to question our assumptions and biases.”
Junaid Amjad, PhD Scholar, Western Sydney University.