11 – 13 September 2017        Send to printer

Conference organizers

Levi Littvay, Central European University, Hungary
Nebojša Blanuša, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Jennifer McCoy, Georgia State University, United States
Ryan Carlin, Georgia State University, United States
Kirk A. Hawkins, Brigham Young University, United States

Conference description:


A spectre is haunting around the globe – the spectre of populism. Tumultuous global changes, growing social inequalities, economic recessions, multicultural transformations, large-scaled forced migrations and post-democratic challenges have contributed to popular enchantment with populist appeals against political establishment and their supposed influential allies. Among these “triggers of insecurity”, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are just the most obvious symptomatic examples of a long array of cases of surprises that have challenged liberal-democratic order in recent decades. Such a strong disturbing ‘noise’ of the people has a potential to become more than an awkward guest who disrupts table manners and rules of sociability (cf. Arditi, 2007: 78).

Populism has multiple causes, forms of articulations and political consequences. Psychologically, populism often shows authoritarian and even totalitarian tendencies, accompanied by xenophobia, nationalism, scapegoating, and strong negative emotions etc. Nevertheless, these are not all the faces of populism. Arditi (ibid.) differentiates between three forms of populism:

(1) As a mode of representation, or populism in power, which transforms conventional high politics and expresses itself in the figure of a strong and decisive leader (together with his enchanting, though potentially problematic, performing skills and psychological dispositions),

(2) As a symptom of democratic politics, or contentious politics at the edge of democracy, expressed in radical democratic movements expanding the scope of citizen involvement in public affairs (expressing their civic virtues, but with a tendencies towards mistrust, polarization and violence), and

(3) As a possible underside or nemesis of democracy with an inclination to authoritarianism and totalitarianism, where leaders adopt a caesaristic position of the people’s will incarnate (imposing extreme ideologies, obedience, fear, scapegoating, but also provoking civil disobedience and non-conformism).

These forms of populism are not walled off; one form may transform into another. Indeed, there are many recent examples of leaders mobilized the masses and directing their consent towards undemocratic and destructive goals. These dynamics can be found in small parties at the extremes of the political spectrum as well as in big centrist parties whose leaders often form government.

This conference explores the psycho-political bases of support for populism, the contexts that activate them, discursive and emotional dynamics between populist leaders and their followers, and the policy consequences these entail. It builds from the expectation that above mentioned “triggers of insecurity” and policy failures make leaders’ appeals to people-centrism, anti-elitism and Manichean polarization into antagonistic camps of ‘us’ and ‘them’ attractive to many individuals. To achieve these goals, the participants will rely heavily on experimental research methodologies carried out in diverse contexts.

Background and Significance of the Project

Building on previous experience and support of the ISPP, in July 2016 CEU Summer University (Budapest) organized the course “The Political Psychology of Populism”, with assistance of Team Populism, an international network of social scientists. Intentions of this very successful course were to bridge various methods and concepts from social and political psychology and to introduce young scholars to the most recent attempts at understanding individuals' support for populist actors. The course gathered 24 students from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas and 9 professors from Belgium, Croatia, Hungary and USA. Being a part of Team Populism, our next goal is to upgrade the level of networking and research activities that will involve various scholars, the best students from the previous course on populism, and perspective young scholars. Furthermore, our special interest is to improve integration of Central and South Eastern European scholars and students into a broader research network and to establish relationships among existing research centers on populism in Europe and abroad. In order to achieve these goals we have established a special group of Croatian scholars (comprised of political scientists, psychologists and media studies experts) who were already a part of Team Populism. This Croatian group is a part of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Citizenship and Migration (CEDIM) at the University of Zagreb.


CEDIM (http://www.cedim.hr/?lang=en) aims to promote research excellence in academic fields related to citizenship, forced migration, ethnicity, gender, contentious politics, protest movements and cultural trauma studies. All these themes converge and intersect in the phenomenon of populism. However, CEDIM’s goals are not merely academic. It aims to combine research activities with various projects and programs in order to achieve greater social and democratic engagement. Its long-term mission is to fill in the gap that exists between policy makers, academia and final beneficiaries with empirically-based policy advocacy. Such an approach is especially important in the case of populism, which brings major challenges for democratic regimes all around the globe. To make policy recommendations based on rigorous methodology, broad multi-national experience and applicable in various contexts is one of prominent goals in CEDIM’s study of populism, as well as a main goal of this conference.

Description of the Conference

We propose a three-day conference to be held in Dubrovnik (Croatia) at the premises of the Inter-University Center (http://www.iuc.hr) from 11 to 13 September 2017. The main goal of the conference is to enlarge the scope of our current study and to bring together top scholars on populism from several research centers and universities, as well as the best students determined to further the study of populism. We plan the conference for approximately 20-22 participants, including 15-17 scholars and 4-5 postgraduate students.

Students’ recruitment will be based on their accomplishments during and after the CEU Summer University course “The Political Psychology of Populism”, or on invited scholars’ recommendations. Several scholars who participated in the same course will participate in the conference, such as Levi Littvay from Central European University, Jennifer McCoy and Ryan Carlin from Georgia State University, Kirk A. Hawkins from Brigham Young University, and Nebojša Blanuša from University of Zagreb. Several Croatian researchers and members of CEDIM, including Marijana Grbeša, Berto Šalaj and Zlatan Krajina, will enlarge this group. Taken together, they form an organizing committee of the conference. In addition, in this call for papers we are inviting the next participants:

Rosario Aguilar Pariente CIDE

Steven van Hauwaert CIDE

Eva Anduiza Perea Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Guillem Rico Camps Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Bart Bonikowski Harvard University

Matthijs Rooduijn University of Utrecht

Marco Steenbergen Institut für Politikwissenschaft, Universität Zürich

David Doyle Latin American Centre, University of Oxford

Nina Wiesehomeier IE University

For all participants the organizer will cover expenses for accommodation at the premises of the IUC, as well as for two dinners and two lunches.

The conference will focus on presenting the new results and improvement of cross-national research framework that deals with causes and consequences of populism. Such wide framework includes not only “demand” side, expressed in various forms of historical, social and political contexts and characteristics of individuals who live(d) in those contexts, but also the “supply” side, i.e. political leaders, their traits, leadership and communication styles, and policies. In order to achieve the best possible insights into populism as multilayered phenomenon, we are focused on field and laboratory experiments, complemented by other research methods, including surveys, expert and political elite’s interviews, various textual analysis etc. This conference will provide an opportunity to build strategies of integration of results from different methodological approaches we use. Furthermore, we shall provide firm policy recommendations from our empirical research, clearly nuanced for different political and cultural contexts.

Tentative Program Schedule:

1st day: 11 September

12:00 - Arrival and registration of participants

15:00 – 15:15 Welcome Address and introduction of participants

15:15 – 16:15 Round table: Few words about the state-of-the-art in studies of populism

16:15 – 16:30 Coffee break

16:30 – 18:45 Panel 1 – Populist Rhetoric: Framing Strategies and Populist Support

20:00 Dinner

2nd day: 12 September

10:00 – 12:15 Panel 2 – Populism, Emotions and Ideology: Dynamics between Leaders and Followers

12:15 – 14:00 Lunch break

14:00 – 16:15 Panel 3 – Populist Impact: Attitudes, Values, Civic Virtues and Polarization

16:15 – 16:30 Coffee break

16:30 – 18:45 Panel 4 – Populism and Political Issues: The Rise of Populism after Policy Failures

21:00 Dinner

3rd day: 13 September

10:00 – 12:00 Round table: Policy recommendations – How to deal with populism today?

12:15 – 13:45 12:00 – 12:15 Coffee break

Business meeting: Plans for the future

13:45 – 15:30 Lunch and closing session

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