Populists as Strangers: How the ‘politics of the extraordinary’ challenges representative democracy in Europe
This paper elaborates on the idea that populist actors simultaneously seek and are considered to be ‘different’ from ‘ordinary’ democratic politics. Drawing in particular on Simmel’s notion of the ‘stranger’, Josefin Graef argues that contemporary populism in Europe is best conceived of as a balanced strategy rooted in everyday performances of extraordinariness in relation to the representative-democratic order.
These performances intentionally oscillate between the poles of sameness and difference, closeness and distance, and radical change and stability. Together, they constitute the ‘populist politics of the extraordinary’, which this paper illustrates with reference to examples from European populisms, concluding that instead of disregarding, promoting, or combating this strategy, a democratic response needs to disrupt populist politics in an equally complex and sophisticated manner.
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Josefin Graef is a Dahrendorf Forum Post-Doctoral Fellow based at the Hertie School of Governance. She is an area studies specialist working on the narrative politics of difference and deviance in Europe. Her research is interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from hermeneutics, media studies, political communication, and social theory to explore current dynamics in European politics, especially as they relate to questions of migration, populism and political violence. She received her PhD in German Studies from the University of Birmingham in 2017 and joined the Hertie School in 2018. She also co-convenes the German Politics Specialist Group of the UK Political Studies Association.
Keywords: populism, representative democracy, extraordinary, strategy, performance
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