How do health, work, morality problems that people have inform explanations of populism?

We have just submitted the Social Contract as part of the reporting for the project. In it, I detailed some choices we have made in terms of naming the POPREBEL community ‘Wellbeing in Europe’, focusing on three main themes to start with (work, health, spirituality), as well as our thinking process. What is missing, and outside the scope of the report but very relevant to us, is how we expect to model theoretically the relationship between people’s issues with forming of / reactions to populism.

As community builders, the approach is to expand our list of questions to participants after we hear life stories - asking how they view politics, how the issues affect their political choices and responses to the political offer. We hope to make the connection there. But is there any theory informing it?

@Alberto is asking: Do you have a theory that “populism arises when something is wrong with people’s lives, for example work/health etc.”? It sounds reasonable, but it’s only just a theory, and not well supported by data at that. Competing theories: populism arises because it serves powerful interests, and the techniques exist to subvert hapless folks into joining the Brown Shirts; populism arises because people are inherently cruel. Maybe others. If we have a theory of populism underpinning our work, that needs to be out in the open. What does @Jan think?

Some excerpts from the report:

In order to study the supply side of populist politics (see, we are engaging people “where they are;” and thus we are focusing on the demand side. We ask: What do people demand? Why? How? Where do they get the ideas to demand this and not that? How is their “demanding” anchored in their lives?

To answer these questions in a compelling way, we contextualize them in a broader, engaging community narrative. The narrative is the ambitious story that points to where the whole effort converges, and is inclusive of the perspective of those we engage. The emphasis here is on how the project can contribute to bringing tangible benefits to those engaging in the conversation, with the added disclaimer that ours is a research project and partnership between different organisations.

Wellbeing in Europe is broadly introduced as following:

‘We are on a journey to help one another to find the right ways to navigate the changes that are happening in Europe. How are we building good lives against a backdrop of massive social, economic, political challenges? How are we creating opportunities for ourselves and where can we support one another better? In work, health, family, community life.’

This narrative has the advantage of being general or inclusive enough for a wide range of participants to join in, by not politicizing from the get go, or by dismissing those on the ‘wrong’ end of the political spectrum. This is in line with our stated goal of engaging with people on all sides of the political debates, but doing it with a constructive and respectful approach. As per the Grant Agreement, we use the word “populism” with caution, as it has negative connotations in some cultures, and might discourage supporters of the populist agenda. This does not mean community members and community managers cannot use it - if anything it will be more contextualized in the conversations, and carry the added value of individuals representing themselves and not the project, in their contributions.

One of the biggest challenges is creating a conversation about topics which people care about and frame the output of the conversation in a way that makes it possible for groups to act on it. The entry point into the conversation is an invitation to participants to contribute. To that end, we identified a list of priority issues to cover multiple population groups; we agreed on a set of issues to start with, and then we framed questions to make connections between these issues.

Here is a snapshot of the thinking:

We want to see a meaningful democratic debate, by connecting issues people care about with political discourse and action in their country i.e. for European elections; for national governments etc.

Societal problems are complex and quite common is that nobody knows what’s going on, who can one trust, who are the authority figures.

What are issues many people care about? Work and health are at the core of meeting basic needs of wellbeing. Migration and travel are hot topics in the media, but they might not affect the core wellbeing of people.

Are there subterranean themes interesting to explore? the shift in religious beliefs, sources of existential angst i.e. crisis of masculinity

Who could be the first ones to participate and help us understand better the national/ local contexts? How are others in a similar situation dealing with it?

Where do we find them? What would be considered to be a fun activity? What would draw them to go to a meeting, to feel comfortable in that specific group? What do the members of the group have in common, what defines them culturally?

I have a hunch that changing notions of masculinity/attitude towards/ expectations from the role of men in society…

For example in xestern europe & north america we are seeing the rise of a men’s rights movement and the associated online conversation is in a web somehow linked to conspiracy theorists, dogmatic free speechers, anti feminists, outright racists. There was a mapping in a dutch news… maybe Inge knows it? I tried to find it but cannot

Update: Found it thanks to @inge and the cool thing is they actually have the code for scraping and producing the visualisations

  1. The Data & Society research report on the Alternative Influencer Network
  2. You tube data extraction tools
  3. The code repository they used to do the mapping
    DS_Alternative_Influence.pdf (5.2 MB)

Also came across this paper that might be of interest?

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@noemi, @nadia, @alberto @Richard Many thanks for this. It really looks terrific, but I will suggest a bit of twitching. I will try to work on this text a bit today, but it may take a few days for me to finish. It is very related to what I want to say when we meet in Brussels. I need a moment (a day?) of quite thinking and writing, but at the moment I am in a whirlwind (self-inflicted. See, for example, here: If you take another look at my Manifesto, you will see that the main idea is to study a complex interaction between the supply and demand factors. In the Manifesto I reviewed several hypotheses and generalized accounts of the emergence of support for populist ideologies. Yes, we focus on the demand side and you write about it beautifully. With the ER method we will not get to the analysis of the supply side per se, but we may want to tease out people’s reflections/memories of someone (a party? a priest? a politician? a poet? a lover?) suggesting to them a “solution.” A memory of meaningful dialogues via which they developed their ways of thinking. People obviously exists in complex networks and are constantly bombarded with ideas not only how to solve their problems, but what constitutes a problem, etc. I love this text - many thanks!

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Jan, thanks!

We are submitting the report as we speak, and the detailed explanations are outside the scope of the social contract deliverable.

BUT we do want them for our own intellectual understanding and consistency of approaches as we move forward. So take your time.

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@Jan see ^^

Got it and on it. J

Hi @nadia I am not sure what to see - there is no link or text :sunglasses:

See my comment above with material you might find useful for your research

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@nadia already saw this on my social media feed, but at Coda Story we just published this piece on Hungarian pro-orban oligarchs buying up media outlets around Europe and churning out far right ideologies. Slightly different than social media, but still super relevant, especially in light of the Harvard research on how fake news travels.

Well one thing we would need is a piece of software that trawls places where sale opportunities are announced beforehand, and the going price. And push through legislation obliging anyone who wants to sell or buy media outlets to put up options for others to participate in the sale well before it goes through…

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plus possibly some kind of co-financing scheme where if critical mass of people crowdfund X% of purchase, the outlet has to break up the sale into three chunks - X to citizen shareholders - Y to trust putting 2*X amount of Eur & shared into the pot - Z% to the original bidder.