Populism vs. the People: How citizen’s social representations of home destabilize national populism’s territorial vision

Mahendran, Kesi; English, Anthony and Nieland, Sue (2021). Populism vs. the People: How citizen’s social representations of home destabilize national populism’s territorial vision. Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, 5(2) pp. 146–158.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/jts5.82

Abstract

Can understanding social representations of home unpack the central empty signifier of populism - the “true people”? Nationalist exclusionary forms of populism use home, birthplace and born and bred narratives to frame sections of the population as Other. “Go Home” vans in the UK, Donald Trump’s use of birther rhetoric during his previous presidential candidacy and the Sweden Democrats mobilisation of folkhemmet (people’s home) to question migrant welfare contributions together illustrate how nationalist populism works. Populism uses threat and insecurity, related to home, to make hegemonic a protectionist and reified worldview of home as stable, bounded and historically continuous. This article examines how populist rhetoric of home compares to people’s actual social representations of home. Using cross-European interviews (N = 76) we find the dynamics of home relate to three social representations - home as a threatened
space, home as birthplace and home as a lifespan journey. These are articulated through a dialogical self engaged in transnational and intergenerational dialogue. The evidence of dynamic, dialogical and relationally continuous representations of home point to the value of further examination of alternative social representations of home. This articulation could counter protectionist rhetoric associated with both vertical (ordinary/elite) and horizontal (people/migrant) dimensions of nationalist populism.

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