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Populisms in the Age of (anti)Globalizations

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

Swati Parashar & Maria Stern | 20 January 2020

We are living in times of great lamentation of the loss of ‘religion,’ undermining of ‘good,’ ‘traditional’ values, the greatness of ‘ancient’ cultures and civilizational heritage, and decline in the status of some states in international society. Growing efforts to reclaim masculinity (for particular groups, the nation, men?) through what is termed as ‘populism’ are gaining traction globally in a manner that we have never seen before as many seek to alleviate a prevalent sense of emasculation. Trump’s ‘make America great again,’ Modi’s ‘Make in India,’ Imran Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan,’ Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream,’ Erdogan’s ‘New Turkey,’ are all invocations of a glorious past and the march into a future where the bounties of globalization have been wholly exhausted; replaced by inward-looking, xenophobic, masculinist cultural nationalisms invested deeply in a conflict between the ‘self’ and ‘other.’

In today’s global discourse, ‘populism’ often refers to the rise of right-wing politics and the accompanying political purchase of a popular leader who proclaims that he or she speaks for the people. According to political scientist Cas Mudde, this leader “frames politics as a battle between the virtuous ’ordinary’ masses and a nefarious or corrupt elite.”

Populist protectionism is on the rise across the global north with Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, Wilders, etc. – as well as in the Global South, in the Philippines and India. China also has a new nationalist and civilizational narrative with more powers bestowed on the CCP and President Xi Jinping. Statist economic strategies are reasserted in Russia and much of Latin America. The role of multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization is less clear. Efforts to halt rising global temperatures across many scales of engagement are being thwarted. For large publics, ‘globalization’ has become an anathema.

Similarly, development is being reinvented by populisms in their quest for legitimacy, power, and grassroots support. This involves radical thinking around social, political, economic, cultural and environmental forces that are reshaping development. The international community has, in 2015, agreed on a set of extremely ambitious sustainable development goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years. The aim is to try to achieve a broad range of sustainable economic, social, and environmental development objectives. Contemporary representations of populisms thus raise the question: How can global sustainable development be achieved when international collaboration and exchange are increasingly challenged?

Yet, the populisms of today are not solely about leaders, political parties, and ideas but also about how people’s aspirations exist in contestation and confrontation with the past and the existing status quo. Furthermore, in light of the very different movements and ideologies that are lumped together under the banner of ‘populism,’ we need to rethink if the terminologies we use are appropriate. Have we merely borrowed them from Western discourses and applied them in our characterizations of complex situations, such as in India, Brazil, the Philippines, and Turkey? Was the Iranian Islamic Revolution also right-wing populism? Is it the rise of right-wing populism, today, or more of the decline of the left-liberal, secular dominance and their ‘populist’ rhetoric? How should Russia, China and the Arab Spring be understood in this context? Are they exceptions? Populist movements raise these and other critical questions about the connections between populism, globalization and its relevance to development discourses and practices.

The Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development (GCGD), organized a two-day workshop on 14-15 November 2019, with international scholars with diverse expertise in an interdisciplinary discussion about current ‘anti-globalization’ and ‘post-globalization’ trends in the context of populism as well as populism’s impact on development. This workshop was preceded by a workshop on this theme in November 2018, with participants from across different university affiliations in Gothenburg. The questions that both workshops addressed included:

  • Is the current populist trend an expression of lack of confidence in globalization?

  • What are the consequences of populist governments for development policies/processes?

  • How are different states and social movements reinterpreting globalization-de/globalization trends?

  • How have the politics of identity shifted in light of these trends?

  • What are the sources of current heightened opposition to increased global transactions and interdependencies, as well as the associated global governance?

  • What strategies of ‘re-globalization’ are available, including reform and transformation of the rules and institutions that govern the global political economy?

  • How has violence been normalized in this new age of anti-globalization and right-wing politics?

  • In particular, how can inclusive democratic citizenship and sovereignty obtain due voice and influence in revitalized global cooperation both in the global south and north?

Over the next several weeks, BlogalStudies will post contributions to this ongoing discussion, including:

  • 22 January 2020 On Climate Activism as (Left) Populism by Sofie Hellberg, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 27 January 2020 International Relations of Hate— How the Radical Right Has Conquered Territory in the International System by Andreas Önnerfors, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 29 January 2020 Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Globalisation by Arne Bigsten, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 3 February 2020 Cultural Populism: The Rise of the Civilisation Narratives by Ravi Dutt Bajpai, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

  • 5 February 2020 Populist Governments and the EU: An Ever More Distant Union by Kilian Spandler, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 10 February 2020 Donald Trump and the United States Foreign Aid’s Erosion of Legitimacy, by Salvador Santino Fulo Regilme Jr., Leiden University, the Netherlands

  • 12 February 2020 Linguistic Populism in India by K. V. S. Prasad, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden

  • 17 February 2020 Challenges for Progressive Activists in Countering Far-Right Populist Representations of Citizenship by Nicole Doer, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

These posts are written by workshop participants and others who wished to contribute to this critical discussion. Posts address thematic issues and draw attention to different forms of populisms and their manifestations in specific contexts. We will discuss the take-aways from these contributions in our concluding post. For now, we wish our readers a productive engagement with the ideas shared by the authors of these engaging pieces in the days ahead. For us, this is one among many conversations happening globally that aim to better understand a concept that is historically puzzling and difficult to grasp, while, at the same time, appears easily visible and identifiable.

Are you interested in contributing to the conversation on populisms in the age of (anti)globalizations? We are still accepting contributions until mid-February.


Swati Parashar is acting Director of the Gothenburg Center of Globalization and Development (GCGD) and Associate Professor in Peace and Development at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Follow her on Twitter @swatipash.

Maria Stern is Director of the Gothenburg Center of Globalization and Development (GCGD) and Professor in Peace and Development at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden


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