Arab American University – Palestine
Policy and Conflict Resolution Studies Center
2020 Annual Conference
The Age of Populism
Dates of the Conference: June 14-15
We the people…
The spirit of the constitution of the United States of America that is exemplified by the three words mentioned above sums up the essence of the modern age. The populous in the modern age are no longer perceived as subjects that are ruled by the sovereign but as agents who are governed by an elected legitimate authority that is there to represent the needs of the “majority” of the citizens of the modern state.
From that moment onwards, the collective which comes in different shapes and forms has been empirically studied through different lenses and was acknowledged as a force that has the capacity to influence the political environment.
Already in 1895 Gustave Le Bon wrote his book “the Crowd: A study of the popular Mind” which is a study on the social psychology of the crowd in which he asserts that this new modern era is “the era of the crowd.” In his book, Le Bon warns from the crowd’s actions and argues that individuals lose their cultivated and rational reasoning and act like barbarians.
On a similar note, in his seminal work “Democracy in America” Alexis de Tocqueville cautions about the “Tyranny of the Majority” and the threat that the majority might cause to the democratic nature of the state if they utilize their votes to disenfranchise and discriminate against minority groups. What can be perceived as a flow in the democratic system is illuminated in the works of Carl Schmitt (2004) who acknowledges the perplexity in a system that allows 51% (the majority) to determine the fate of the other 49% of the population
Today, with the rise of popular sentiments not only in the “developing” world but also in the “West” has prompted scholars to revisit the concept of populism in the aim of developing a theoretical framework to understand the “populous” as a sociological concept. How can we distinguish, or should we distinguish between a popular movement that aspires to breakdown from the shackles of authoritarianism and bondage and a movement that is inspired by authoritarian and exclusionary sentiments?
In the developing countries, popular movements as witnessed in the Arab Spring seek to overthrow the governing regimes; regimes that are perceived by its citizens as outdated, authoritarian and undemocratic. The crowd in this case act in opposition to the ruling party and as a result the price they pay for dissent has been in many instances costly.
The new and emerging popular movements in the West on the other hand have sprouted as a result of emerging popular leaders who capitalize on irrational impulses which builds on fear from the other, exclusion and racism. In this case, those racist sentiments which are found in every society are encouraged and supported by a leader or a prospective leader who feeds ‘the mob’ with such emotions. As a result, the West has witnessed an upsurge in populist leaders who are supported and empowered by their popular base.
This tendency to withdraw from the global community and to eye the other with suspicion and contempt should be investigated in light of an era of globalization which is driven by a global market economy that is extenuating the economic discrepancy between the rich and poor. Instead of reevaluating the liberal capitalist system that rules the world, the populous sentiment seeks to blame an “other” for the deterioration of the living standards in the world at large.
With those developments in mind, the annual conference at the AAUP Policy & Conflict resolution Studies Center is an attempt to contextualize the concept of “populism” in today’s developments.
We invite scholars to engage, theorize and contextualize the different ways to understand “populism” as a concept of analysis. We also urge scholars to reexamine the term itself and evaluate whether the use of the term should be revisited.
The conference will be held at the Arab American University – Ramallah Campus on June 14-15, the topics include but are not limited to the themes below:
I. What is Populism: Definitions of the Concept
The genealogy of the term and how it developed in the Social sciences throughout time. The different meanings it holds, misconceptions and the consolidation of the term
II. Populism & Globalization
In an era of Globalization, the world is witnessing a resurgence of traditional and tribal affiliations that build on exclusion and fear of the other. Many scholars have attributed this populist resurgence as a direct response to globalization.
III. Populism & Religion
Many scholars have acknowledged the power that religion has in steering the sentiments of the people. Religion as a transcendental medium holds a spiritual authority that can be abused and manipulated to rally the populous behind a certain cause.
IV. Populism & Authority
what is the role of an authoritative figure or a “charismatic leader” in legitimizing populous sentiments and in turn empowering a populist discourse that aims to exclude, discriminate and divide?
V. Populism & the Media
In an era of globalization, certain sentiments can become contagious and may travel from one place to the other.
VI. Populism & Capitalism
The global economic system thrives on the maintenance of inequality which results in benefiting a few at the expense of the larger global majority. The frustration from the economic system has been wrongly channeled against an “other;” either an internal or external other, who is perceived by populist discourses as the main threat to the rights of “legitimate” citizens who in turn have been recruited to rise against minority groups found in those nations.