Table Of Contents
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- About the author
- About the book
- Citability of the eBook
- Table of Contents
- Ruth Breeze and Ana M. Fernández Vallejo: Introduction: Politics, populism, media
- Section 1: Politicians across Modes and Media
- Aditi Bhatia and Andrew S. Ross: Trumpian tweets and populist politics: A corpus-assisted discourse analytical study
- Giorgos Venizelos: Populism and the digital media: A necessarily symbiotic relationship? Insights from the case of Syriza
- Antonella Napolitano: Achieving results for the American people. A corpus-assisted CDA of the White House website under Trump’s presidency
- Miguel Ayerbe Linares: Talking about populists in Twitter: Politicians’ linguistic behaviour in comments about populists in Germany and Austria
- Maria Cristina Aiezza: #AmericaFirst vs #primagliitaliani: A Corpus-Assisted CDA of Trump’s and Salvini’s Twitter communications
- Daniela Rovenţa-Frumuşani and Adriana Ştefănel: The populist contagion. The influence of populist discourses on the political communication of traditional parties in Romania.
- Saqlain Hassan: Populism and popularity in Imran Khan’s 2018 election speeches
- Section 2: People, Politics and Politicians across Modes and Media
- Aline Schmidt: The discursive construction of Trump’s charisma on Twitter and Reddit
- Muhammad A. Badarneh: “You are not one of us!”: Online responses to the premier’s populist discourse in Jordan
- Ruth Breeze: “Happy to be insulted”: Offensive language in online discussions of UK radical politics
- Nahla Nadeem: Politicizing collective identities: Online news commentaries in the Arab Spring
- Víctor A. Meléndez: Social networks and the construction of political culture: Where are we looking from?
- Notes on Contributors
Ruth Breeze and Ana M. Fernández Vallejo
Introduction: Politics, populism, media
Politics is inextricably bound up with discourse and communication. From the earliest times, the sphere of the political has been understood as a social arena in which power and influence can be garnered, and possible collective futures shaped, through persuasion – and persuasion is conducted through symbolic systems of social communication, that is, through languages. In Chilton’s words (2004: 19), through language, individuals have the capacity to “communicate, compare, align or dissent from one another’s mental representations of the present, future and possible worlds”. Language enables us to engage in dialogue with others, and through this, to share and negotiate visions and goals: together, these discursive activities form the essence of the human activity that we call ‘politics’.
There is, of course, nothing new about this. Since Aristotle’s definition of the human being as a ‘political animal’ that is distinguished from the other animals precisely by his/her power of speech, it has been generally accepted that politics is interconnected with language not just superficially, but in its very essence. However, in more recent times with the rise of the different forms of mass media, attention came to focus anew on politics and language, looking not just at the rhetoric used to shape the message, but also at the means used to convey this to a wider public. For many years, the focus was on the press, radio and television, and the way politicians and their audiences adapted to these different media (and vice versa). Since the advent of digital communication, the relationship between new media and politics has now become a focus of intense interest and speculation on the part of politicians and academics alike. Currently, it seems that the symbiosis between the two spheres is such that political activity is almost inseparable from media communication (Engesser et al. 2017; Strömback/Esser 2014; Esser/Strömback 2014). Politicians and parties who have a strong media presence, or who attract lively media attention, are more visible, trigger stronger ←7 | 8→reactions, and perhaps receive more support, than those that do not. The study of this intersection between politics and the media is perceived to be particularly important. In a positive sense, it involves crucial ideals, values and aspirations, such as informed democracy, citizens’ empowerment and social debate. But importantly, on the negative side, experience has also taught us that this synergy between politics and the media is increasingly likely to be open to manipulation, propaganda, polarization effects, and so on.
If we examine recent research trends concerning politics and the media in more detail, it is clear that most academic interest is currently centring on the so-called ‘new media’, particularly the Internet and social media, on the grounds that these have wrought swift and radical changes in the way people communicate and interact on a daily basis, not least as far as politics is concerned (Enli 2017). On the one hand, mainstream politicians and parties have adapted quickly to this new scenario, investing considerably in online communication tools and strategies. On the other, Internet-based affordances have made it much easier for new political movements to find supporters and gain ground quickly. Recent examples, such as the US, French and Italian election campaigns of 2017–2018, suggest that digital media make it easier for “outsider” candidates to attract sufficient public attention to launch themselves into mainstream politics. From a slightly different angle, online activism has also been studied in contexts as different as the Arab Spring and the Brexit referendum, showing that digital tools can be effective when it comes to gaining critical mass in order to organise protests or sway public opinion. However, the follow-up and ongoing consequences of such phenomena are far from predictable, and controversy still rages concerning the degree to which campaigns and movements conducted through digital media are open to manipulation (Jansen 2010; Penney/Dadas 2013; Gibson 2013; Bennett 2018).
Against this background, the extension of this association between politics and media to take in the phenomenon of populism becomes clear. The term populism has enjoyed huge popularity in recent years, and is open to various differing interpretations. In discourse analysis, it is generally understood that the common core of populist messages, be they principally right, left or nationalist-oriented, lies in a loose or ‘thin’ ideology that posits a notion of popular sovereignty: populist discourse ←8 | 9→assumes the existence of two homogeneous units, ‘the people’ and ‘the elites’, which are placed in antagonism to each other, such that the former’s rights and aspirations need to be defended against those of the latter (Mudde 2004; Stanley 2008). Importantly, this basic pro-people/anti-establishment stance is highly open and flexible in ideological terms, proving to be applicable to both the right and the left, to Trump and Syriza, to Marine Le Pen, Movimento Cinque Stelle, Podemos and Chávez, as well as to regional nationalisms of various kinds. Perhaps for this reason, contemporary understandings of populism have come to centre primarily on the notion of discourse, performance and style (Moffitt 2016; Macaulay 2019), on the one hand, and on disentangling the relationship between populist discourse and other ideological trends, such as nationalism or socialism (de Cleen/Stavrakakis 2017), on the other.
Within the perspective of this discursive-performative understanding of populism, it is clear why the media (of all kinds) play a key role in its generation and propagation: populism feeds off media attention, and the new media in particular give populists enormous potential for performing to ever wider audiences (Llamas Saíz 2018). As Wodak (2015) and Moffitt (2016) have pointed out in their different ways, what unites populists is their ability to ‘perform’ in such a manner that they attract the public eye, engage popular identities, and arouse strong reactions of a highly affective nature, triggering politically operative emotions such as fear (Wodak 2015), anger (Wagner 2014; Breeze 2019a) and sadness (Rico et al. 2017). The digital media (YouTube, Twitter, websites, comments pages and discussion boards, Facebook, etc.) notoriously lend themselves to the transmission of radical political messages, in that they are open to the widest possible range of users, are subject to very few controls, and are often multimodal, allowing users to combine images, video and words to create striking emotive messages. According to many researchers, social media are an ideal resource for populist politicians because of the preference for what is “polarised, simplistic and emotional” (Enli 2017: 222). Moreover, since in many cases it is possible to gain ever-wider audiences through rapid snowball effects, there is a premium on sending high impact messages, even if this means sacrificing important qualities such as reliability, truthfulness and respect for others. At the same time, public trust in the (new and old) media is ←9 | 10→being undermined by issues surrounding the topic of ‘fake news’, and by the allegations that bots and other technical innovations are being used systematically to influence public opinion on the social media. All of this has serious consequences for the way the public receive, consume and produce digital messages, as well as for the way politics is conducted on a regional, national and transnational level.
In response to these social and political phenomena, a vast volume of research has focused on populist (and other) politicians’ uses of digital media (Graham et al. 2014), and on the ‘mediatisation of politics’ (Esser/Strömback 2014), with some suggestion that we are truly witnessing a profound transformation of political life (Gerbaudo 2018). Much of the specific analysis has centred on high-profile campaigns (i.e. Obama and Trump, the Brexit referendum) or popular movements (i.e. the Arab Spring). Less attention has been paid, however, to the similarities and differences that emerge across cultures and political systems as populists movements harness the power of the digital media across the world.
To carry out such research, two things are necessary: close attention to the actual textual and multimodal characteristics of the messages; and a well-founded understanding of the social and political background to the movements, parties and audiences in the different countries concerned. This volume is intended to contribute to our knowledge of these issues by providing case studies based on the uses of digital and other media in populist politics in various parts of Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia. The chapters each provide an overview of the context of each study, including the political scenario from which they emerge, but importantly, they also pay particular attention to the linguistic/discursive, multimodal and media effects that characterise the messages and interactions produced. Our aim is not only to bring together a collection of papers that illustrate the workings of populism across modes and media, but also to show explicitly how the specific mode and medium used has a bearing on the nature of the messages and the way people receive them and interact with them in the digital sphere.
The selection of chapters presented in this volume thus covers a wide range of countries, parties, and movements, including some, like Pakistan, Romania and Puerto Rico, that have received little attention ←10 | 11→so far from scholars interested in populism and politics in the media. Although all the chapters here focus on events in the last few years, their geographical and ideological scope is immense, ranging from Imran Khan’s successful election campaign promoting a modernising agenda in Pakistan, in 2018, to the public outcry over Nicolás Maduro’s attempt to further undermine democracy in Venezuela by setting up a Constituent Assembly entirely loyal to himself, in 2017. The discursive data under consideration are also highly diverse. First, from the politicians and parties themselves, this volume includes analysis of speeches delivered live and relayed through YouTube and social media, campaign posters and television spots, politicians’ official webpages, and also their personal or party Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Importantly, these analyses are not confined to profiling how populist leaders and/or parties themselves communicate, but they also consider what other parties have to say about them, and how mainstream politicians use a variety of means to delegitimise populist actors in the eyes of the public. Second, from the perspective of the general public and grass-roots movements, these chapters also consider reactions from and interactions between members of the public on Twitter and in reader comments pages in diverse settings, illustrating the growth of public resistance to populist messages, on the one hand, but also showing how popular movements can gather momentum and become politically operative, on the other.
The theoretical frameworks used to inform the studies presented here, and the methodologies applied to analyse the data, are mainly based on linguistic approaches to discourse analysis, yet within this, they represent a variety of different approaches. Many studies are designed to incorporate mixed (quantitative and qualitative) approaches (Fernández Vallejo; Schmidt) to social media analysis, including some that exploit the potential of corpus assisted discourse analysis (Schmidt; Bhatia/Ross; Aiezza; Napolitano; Hassan). Other chapters prioritise qualitative analysis with a view to gaining an in-depth understanding of online political discourses (Badarneh; Meléndez; Nadeem; Rovenţa-Frumuşani/Ștefănel; Breeze). The interpretive frameworks used include systematic linguistically grounded approaches to discourse analysis (Ayerbe Linares), approaches informed by the theory of discursive illusions (Bhatia/Ross), theories of identity (Aiezza; Breeze) or theories of ←11 | 12→politeness and language aggression (Breeze), as well as studies focusing on the use of first and second person devices to create a more intimate style of communication (Hassan). Finally, some studies clearly adopt a macro-perspective to interpretation of data, looking at the digital phenomena in the wider scope of entitlement and inequality, freedom and disenfranchisement, democracy and disillusionment (Meléndez; Badarneh; Rovenţa-Frumuşani/Ștefănel; Fernández Vallejo).
1 Populist performers and performances
The first overarching theme of this book concerns politicians’ media performances. In this, chapters analysing Donald Trump’s approach to communication, as one of the most visible examples of the ‘populist style’ found across new and old media, form an important element, as we see in the chapters by Aditi Bhatia and Andrew S. Ross, Maria Cristina Aiezza, Antonella Napolitano and Aline Schmidt. But importantly, readers also have the opportunity to compare his performances with those of other leaders, such as Imran Khan in Pakistan, analysed here by Saqlain Hassan, Tsipras in Greece, studied by Giorgos Venizelos, or Salvini in Italy, investigated by Maria Cristina Aiezza. This opens up the scope for comparisons on a political level, placing a question mark over certain value judgements that condemn populism in its entirety. However, it also draws our notice to aspects of the way politicians and people behave in the media that seem to transcend national and cultural boundaries. These chapters amply illustrate the features identified by Moffitt (2016) and others as characteristic of populism, namely a dichotomous view of society in which ‘the people’ is pitted against a corrupt or treacherous ‘elite’. An urgent sense of crisis, generated by dramatic use of language, is omnipresent in discourses across the political spectrum. However, the elements of ‘bad manners’ (Moffitt 2017) and perhaps also ‘exclusionary discourse’ (Wodak 2015) appear to be more strongly associated with those on the right, and here in particular by Salvini and Trump, with their diatribes against external ‘others’ such ←12 | 13→as migrants. Thus de Cleen and Stavrakakis’ (2017) argument that left-wing populism (in their view, populism proper) and right-wing nationalist populism (which they would term ‘nationalism’) are essentially different receives some support from the present data on a discursive level (see also Breeze 2019b).
At the same time, the chapters in this volume serve to add some nuances to the above discussion concerning the nature and uses of populist discourse. The first of these contributions concerns the attitude that mainstream political parties often adopt towards their new populist rivals. Miguel Ayerbe Linares’s chapter shows clearly that established parties in Germany and Austria adopt powerful strategies to delegitimise parties such as AfD and FPÖ, evoking highly negative historical connotations to undermine their credibility. As we might predict, however, once a populist party attains power, the picture changes: in Austria, the FPÖ’s coalition partner, the ÖVP, carefully refrains from using inflammatory allusions of this kind. From a slightly different perspective, Daniela Rovenţa-Frumuşani and Adriana Ștefănel’s chapter on Romania shows how in cultures with little recent tradition of informed public debate, populist strategies seem to become contagious across the spectrum. Their chapter provides insights into the proliferation and generalisation of populist discourses in a post-communist setting. A further contribution in this sense is about whether or not populists’ strategies change when they come to power. In the case of Tsipras, Giorgos Venizelos brings multimodal evidence into play to illustrate the shift in Syriza’s messages from its years in opposition to its years in power. By contrast, Antonella Napolitano’s chapter on the White House website in the Trump era suggests that populist discourses and performances can persist after power has been secured, maintaining a strong personalist approach to politics and keeping alive the construct of the state that is under attack.
2 People and populism in the media
The second major strand in this volume is the discursive analysis of popular responses to political events or leaders, and the phenomenon ←13 | 14→of grass-roots political movements that gain momentum through digital media. These chapters also fall into two identifiable but overlapping categories: those which can be primarily understood as popular reactions to populist leaders, and those which could be classified as bottom-up popular movements that might gain momentum in order to become operative. Of course, the former can also become politically operative, but on the basis of the evidence presented here, their nature in these two concrete cases seems mainly to be reactive.
Looking at the first category, we can see that leaders such as Ensour in Jordan and Maduro in Venezuela identify as populists, justifying their grip on power by claiming to speak for ‘the people’, but that their claims, and their legitimacy in general, are strongly questioned in social fora. In the case of Jordan, long-standing anti-elite and anti-corruption discourses are mobilised in online fora as people exert themselves in the public performance of attacking, refusing and ridiculing Prime Minister Ensour’s populist claims. Similarly, in Venezuela, as Fernández Vallejo shows, citizen participation in politics through social media such as Twitter becomes increasingly intense when it comes to countering Maduro’s claims to represent ‘the people’, leading to strong polarisation of online exchanges. In a rather different vein, Meléndez’s chapter illustrates the constraints on political development in Puerto Rico, showing how divergent readings of political events fail to attain critical mass, and suggests ways in which social media might in the long term provide a vehicle through which citizens’ consciousness could be raised and a heightened awareness of civic rights, duties and identities might come into being.
Regarding the second strand, addressing more proactive forces from below, Nahla Nadeem considers the strategies used in social media during the Arab Spring, documenting ways in which contributors respond to each other across national frontiers with messages of support and encouragement, and build common ground on the strength of shared cultural values and identities, airing similar social grievances. Her chapter explores the way that grass-roots movements can gather momentum and come to play an active role in events. In the contrasting case of Puerto Rico, Víctor A. Meléndez analyses the way citizens communicate their dissatisfaction on social media, and illustrates the convergence between ideological systems, political actors, and so on, ←14 | 15→in order to bring out both the opportunities and the limitations of this sphere. In his view, the limitations operating in this socio-political scenario are so profound that political protest rarely transcends the virtual sphere to crystallise in action. In a very different context, Ruth Breeze looks at the way contributors to newspaper reader comments pages clash over far-right politics in the United Kingdom. Her analysis suggests that contributors appear to derive enjoyment from these risk-free skirmishes, but also that discursive sparring of this kind may well encourage extremism, by strengthening participants’ convictions and identities, and perpetuating their entrenched positions. The dynamics of right-wing user-generated comment is further analysed on a more theoretical level in a stimulating chapter by Aline Schmidt, who relates the social media discourses of Trump supporters to Weber’s theory of charismatic authority.
3 Modes and media effects
In all of this, it is evident that the various media themselves, and the different modes of communication that they afford (visual, auditory, written or spoken language), play a crucial role in the generation and diffusion of political messages. Starting with the more informal media like Twitter or the comments forum, which are generally associated with a vast proliferation of user-generated content, we can observe that Twitter and comments pages seem to serve as a particularly suitable vehicle for launching unbridled attacks: users employ these media for sharpening antagonism, airing aggressive language, venting rage or frustration, and so on. These media thus serve as an ideal tool for politically engaged citizens who want to stir up antagonisms (against elites, or against political rivals and stigmatised ‘others’) (Breeze; Fernández Vallejo; Badarneh; Meléndez). They also provide suitable channels for populist politicians who want to create the sensation of communicating directly with the electorate (Aiezza; Bhatia/Ross; Rovenţa-Frumuşani/Ștefănel), and for leaders and supporter groups who aspire to projecting and perpetuating charismatic authority (Schmidt). Moreover, as Aditi Bhatia and Andrew ←15 | 16→S. Ross illustrate, these social media also lend themselves to the propagation of ‘fake news’, because the social cybersphere demands very little accountability. A more positive aspect of the same phenomenon is that the social media are also being used for building solidarity and cementing allegiances with like-minded people or fellow sufferers (Nadeem; Breeze; Schmidt; Meléndez). At the same time, we can observe that these same weapons in the hands of mainstream parties can be used to stigmatise competitors, particularly so-called populist rivals, to electoral ends (Ayerbe Linares; Rovenţa-Frumuşani/Ștefănel).
The potential of Twitter and online interactions through fora has tended to distract researchers’ attention away from other media that offer equally interesting forms of political communication that operate through a considerable repertoire of modes. Video-based platforms such as YouTube offer affordances that permit the transmission of particularly powerful messages, both exploiting and enhancing traditional political genres. For example, As Giorgos Venizelos and Saqlain Hassan both show, YouTube has become the logical successor of television for campaign spots, and provides a way for classic election events such as speeches to be projected into the living rooms or mobile phones of the entire population, perhaps with a corresponding modification of tone and manner towards the cultivation of private intimacy rather than public impact. Multimodal genres like posters still have a role to play in illustrating parties’ demands and joining different claims with a view to generating a hegemonic discourse. At the same time, new platforms such as Instagram are taking on a role as the vehicle for multimodal messages (Venizelos). With the increasing number of digital affordances available, it is likely that these transformations in political communication point the way for many more to come.
In all of this, we should not forget that one essential area in which media affordances converge with populist strategies is that of transmitting emotion. As Ana M. Fernández Vallejo, Maria Cristina Aiezza, Aditi Bhatia and Andrew S. Ross, Nahla Nadeem and Muhammad Badarneh all indicate in their chapters in different ways, social media such as Twitter lend themselves to the expression of negative emotions such as anger, and to the venting of frustration. That means that for politicians like Trump and Salvini, Twitter provides an ideal channel for stirring up negative feelings against antagonists. However, online ←16 | 17→media are not only about negativity, and social media also offer enormous potential for the sharing of positive feelings, for offering support and creating a collective identity. Positive emotions are sensed when participants share feelings of solidarity and positive identity (Nadeem), as well as when leaders encourage the generation of positive affect through highly personal discourse accompanied by strategic use and subtle redeployment of cultural symbols (Hassan; Schmidt). To this we can add two observations that take us in slightly different directions. First, we should not forget that insulting language and verbal attacks are not just used to incite and enrage others, but that precisely these negative phenomena can also be a means towards creating solidarity with the in-group (Schmidt; Breeze). Second, we should not consider that the use of emotions is the exclusive prerogative of populists: we must not forget that mainstream politicians also indulge in similarly emotive strategies – both positive and negative – in the social media and elsewhere (Ayerbe Linares; Rovenţa-Frumuşani/Ștefănel).
To conclude this section, we would like to add a few words of caution. Media are conducive to populism, but their influence is certainly not one-way or deterministic (Mazzoleni 2014). Moffitt (2018: 34–38) has drawn our attention to the grave dangers inherent in interpreting populists’ direct style in social media communication as meaning that they are somehow truly ‘in touch’ with ‘the people’. On the one hand, mediatisation is always a matter of degree, and new strategies and uses evolve in parallel with new technological affordances, giving a temporary advantage to those who are more adept at spotting their potential and fine-tuning their applications (Strömbäck/Esser 2014). As these chapters show, so-called non-populists are quite capable of using populist strategies and techniques when they perceive that it is in their interest to do so. At the same time, we must remember that these media are precisely that: media, that is, channels through which messages are expressed. The messages that are transmitted through them may certainly be adapted to exploit the technological potential of the medium in question, and the limitations of the medium may have an impact on the nature of the message (Gallardo Paúls 2017), but the essential message remains independent from the medium. Political discourses emerge from the wider societal debates about the way that political life can and should be conducted. So while we should not ignore the huge potential ←17 | 18→of social media to revitalise the public sphere, we should be aware that they provide not only a forum for greater citizen participation and positive solidarity-building, but also a fertile ground for the rise of populist, exclusionary and even authoritarian discourses (KhosraviNik 2017). Precisely for this reason, volumes such as this are needed to keep apace with developments in politics and populism across modes and media in contrasting settings from around the world.
4 Concluding remarks
Finally, the editors would like to acknowledge their gratitude to a number of institutions and people. This volume is one of the outcomes of the DEMOS project (MINECO FFI2015-65252-R, 2016–2018), which focused on the representations of the people in politics across Europe and beyond (see also the volumes Zienkowski/Breeze 2019, and Llamas Saíz (ed.) 2018). We would like to express our indebtedness to the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness for funding this project and making this book possible. Several of the chapters published here had their origin in papers presented at the conference “In the name of the people”, held at the University of Navarra in November 2018, and we would like to thank all the participants at that conference for their feedback and encouragement, particularly Benjamin de Cleen, Majid KhosraviNik, Massimiliano Demata, Andreas Musolff, Monika Kopytowska, Carmen Sancho Guinda, Sam Bennett and Beatriz Gallardo Paúls. Our thanks also go to members of the GradUN project at the University of Navarra, for their support and help with the DEMOS project in general and this volume in particular: our particular gratitude goes first of all to Manuel Casado, and then to our fellow researchers Carmen Llamas, Inés Olza, Jan Zienkowski, Dámaso Izquierdo, Eleonora Esposito, Ricardo Jiménez and Sarali Gintsburg. We also acknowledge our special debt to the Instituto Cultura y Sociedad at the University of Navarra for providing the infrastructure – and the personal and professional support – needed to carry out projects of this kind.←18 | 19→
Bennett, Sam 2018. New Crises, Old Habits. Online Interdiscursivity and Intertextuality in UK Migration Policy Discourses. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 16/1-2, 140-160.
Breeze, Ruth 2019a. Emotion in Politics: Affective-Discursive Practices in Ukip and Labour. Discourse & Society 30/1, 24-43.
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- 2020 (March)
- Political discourse Multimodal discourse Media discourse Discourse analysis New media Populism Political communication Digital communication Twitter Political speeches Political posters Charisma Online discussions Social imaginaries Collective identities
- Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 350 pp., 17 fig. col., 6 fig. b/w, 22 tables.