Call for papers: Silvio Berlusconi and Post-modern Politics

Silvio Berlusconi and Post-modern Politics: One-day conference, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, 14 December 2012

Call for papers

Love him or loath him Silvio Berlusconi must, in terms of his political longevity and the power he has been able to wield, be considered one of the most successful European party leaders of modern times. Having in early 1994 created an entirely novel kind of political party, he went on, within the space of a few weeks, to win the first of three general elections which, for the next decade and a half confirmed his role as the fulcrum around which everything of any importance in Italian politics essentially revolved. On the one hand, he and his party have been the pivot around which the centre right has been built and whose unity has depended almost entirely on his continued popularity. On the other hand, opposition to Berlusconi has been the only common denominator of the parties on the centre left – and thus the source of their weakness and division as they have each struggled to find a way to oppose him without leaving themselves exposed to the electoral incursions of their allies. Forced to relinquish his role as prime minister in November 2011, in early July 2012 it seemed an open question whether, in the aftermath of the local elections of May and their devastating results for his party and former allies in the Northern League, he would be capable of making a political comeback. He was certainly trying. His departure may therefore be temporary. Much can change between now and the next elections, due in 2013, and many commentators will remember his ‘comeback’ at the 2006 election. Out of office, he might avoid an ‘austerity backlash’ on polling day. Given the relative popularity of Beppe Grillo’s MoVimento 5 Stelle, and the divisions on the centre and left, a new centre-right coalition might just be capable of attracting something approaching the 40 percent of the vote his advisors were telling him was sufficient for an election victory.

Papers are therefore invited which can throw light on Berlusconi’s significance for Italian politics and/or for comparative politics. On the one hand, he is widely credited with having brought about major shifts in the political and social culture of Italy, so there is a need to take stock of what these impacts have been, especially in the light of the forthcoming Italian elections. On the other hand, precisely because of his longevity and impact he has been widely viewed as the archetypal representative of a new type of politics whose signs are widely visible in western democracies generally. This is a type of politics whose salient features include permanent campaigning, populist styles of leadership, a much more leader-centred focus in political campaigning, the emergence of ‘personal parties’ and post-modern forms of engagement with the mass media. Papers should therefore consider what kind of a leader Berlusconi is; how the success of a leader of this type is to be explained, and the extent to which ‘the Berlusconi experience’ is indicative of electoral, party and other types of political change taking place elsewhere. Doing so will then have the additional benefit of helping to throw light on another thorny question, namely, whether he reinforces arguments about Italy as some kind of ‘democratic anomaly’ or whether he is, rather, indicative of trends likely to be followed in due course by other countries.

Paper proposals should be submitted by 1 October to Jim Newell (j.l.newell@salford.ac.uk) and Daniele Albertazzi (d.albertazzi@bham.ac.uk) from either of whom further details about the conference can be obtained. The event is supported by the Italian Politics Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association (PSA), the PSA, Italian studies at Birmingham and the University of Salford. Journalists from the Italian, UK. A keynote speech will be given by Professor Stephen Gundle, University of Warwick and international media will be invited to attend.