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Panel on CIVIL SOCIETY AND POPULISM IN EUROPE: OUTBREAK OR CURE? To be submitted to the conference of the ECPR Standing Group on European Union LUISS University, Rome, 4-6 June 2020


Daniela Irrera, University of Catania
Petia Gueorguieva, New Bulgarian University

The scholarly debates on the relations between the rise of populist parties and movements in several European countries and the role of civil society are increasing and becoming fascinating. Scholars have focused on different aspects of such contentious relations.

On the one hand, civil society has been investigated as one of the main sources of legitimation. While it is almost unanimously understood that civil society is not a monolithic actor, but rather a very multifaceted one, representing several interests and identities, the ways through which it deals with political power is still very contentious. As stressed by Samuel Huntington, the more civil society is multilayered, the greater is the importance of the quality of relations with political institutions. Since there is more room for conflict, populists may have developed several tools for manipulating such conflict and acquiring people support.

On the other hand, civil society has also revealed to be a source of contestation. The various degrees of mobilization wielded by populists in several European countries (as well as in the US and South America) have allowed them to dominate governments
agendas, even in those contexts in which they do not play governmental duties. This was mainly possible thanks to the calculating use of social media and the ability to securitize some extremely sensitive policy issues, like migration management and counterterrorism.

In many other cases, however, this process has been contested, from right civil society organizations. The socialization process, which is one of the tasks traditionally associated to such organizations, have contributed to enlarge participation and increase information sharing, by producing more contestation than support. Therefore, NGOs and associations can impact popular support to populists, by contrasting or limiting the propensity to vote for them.

Can civil society be considered as the main powerful outbreak of populism? Or it can be rather represent, particularly in its most organized forms, the only cure for sanitizing governments and deviated social groups? Can Europe constitute a model for understanding how these processes are taking place in other regions of the world, from South America to Middle East and South East Asia?

The panel intends to deepen this increasingly significant research trend and accepts papers offering theoretical reflections, empirical analyses, case studies or comparative investigations. Papers aiming at comparing the European events with those occurring in other regions are most welcome. Depending on the discussion results, panel chairs plan to convey contributions into a special issue.

If interested to join, please send an abstract (200 words maximum) and full institutional details to and by 6 December.