CfP: 'Populist Historicities'. Populist Engagements with the Past and the Challenges to Historical Thinking

Call for Papers for Edited Volume

We would like to invite you to contribute to an edited volume focusing on populist engagements with the past. Populism, in this volume, is understood to manifest itself both on the left and right side of the political spectrum. It is based on a discourse that revolves around the division of society into two blocks: the privileged and corrupted ‘elites’ vs. ‘the people’ with their just but historically ignored grievances. Populists typically reject traditional mechanisms of political representation, claiming to have direct access to the popular will, and making use of a provocative and affective political style. Populists also often celebrate ‘common sense’ and the evidence of direct experience over expert knowledge. Populists, finally, often appeal to the past to ground their political claims (Berlin), e.g. as a heroic past that functions to legitimize political identities in the present, a past that needs to be learned from, or as a past of victimhood that has to be repaired. 

Our volume aims to analyse the common features and functions of what we call ‘populist historicities’ – meaning the specific relationship to the past and mode(s) of being in history that populist leaders and movements establish. These ‘populist historicities’ go beyond academic historiography with its epistemic conventions and privileging of the written form. They can be articulated through different media, activities and techniques, including visual culture, spoken discourse, and ritualized performances. They cannot be reduced to the cognitive and can give preference to existential, affective and ethical relations to the past. 

We are looking for reflexive case studies as well as theoretical analyses that explore how populisms in different parts of the globe engage with the past. In order to avoid the ‘Atlantic bias’ in studies of populism (Moffit), focusing on Europe and the America’s, we strive for a wide geographical scope. We encourage authors to work on case studies from regions that typically remain underrepresented (e.g. Africa, Asia and the Middle East), but also welcome papers on European and American populisms.

We ask contributors to reflect on both the formal features and contents of populist engagements with the past on four levels of focus: 

  • Ontological: we invite reflections on whether and how populist engagements with the past relate to senses of existential insecurity or losses of (historical) ‘belonging’? Do populist historicities form a response to the crisis of grand narratives and the perceived ‘end of history’? Which kinds of (meta-)narratives underpin populist historicities: is History conceived as a struggle between good and evil, a cyclical process of corruption and regeneration, a straight arrow towards progress?

  • Epistemic: we invite you to look at populist skepticisms and deconstruction of expert historical knowledge, as well as the construction of ‘populist counter-knowledges’. How do populists construct, accredit and disseminate revisionist versions of the past? Are there typical populist criteria for declaring historical knowledge reliable or authoritative? How do assumptions about ‘common sense’ and the ‘evidence of experience’ affect populist epistemologies?

  • Ethical: which moral injunctions do populists typically draw from the past? How do they use the past to define good vs. evil, just vs. unjust, innocent vs. guilty? What type of moral relations to the past are put forward by populists: should the past be remembered, repaired, forgotten, honored, etc.? 

  • Aesthetic: how are populist references to the past stylistically organized and what are its rhetoric and performative techniques? Through which (new) media are they presented to the public? What role does affect play? To which emotions do populists typically appeal (anger, grief, hope, resentment etc.) in their engagements with the past? 

We solicit three types of papers: (1) reflexive case studies focusing on a particular contemporary populist movement or regime, (2) focused theoretical analyses of the ontological, epistemic, ethical or aesthetic features of populist historicities, (3) papers on the relations between populist historicities and conventional academic historiography (populist impulses within historiography, academic reactions to populist uses of the past, challenges  posed by populist uses of the past to historical thinking, etc.).

Potential case studies include but are not limited to:

  • The Middle East (e.g. Netanyahu’s Likud in Israel, Erdoğan’s AKP in Turkey)

  • Asia and The Pacific (e.g. BJP in India, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand, One Nation in Australia)

  • Africa (e.g. Economic Freedom Fighters, Black First Land First, the Zuma wing of the ANC in South Africa, Jerry Rawlings’s politics of memory in Ghana, ivoirité in Côte d’Ivoire)

  • Latin America (e.g. Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Evo Morales and the Katarist movement in Bolivia, Peronism in Argentina, Chavism in Venezuela)

  • Europe and North America (e.g. AfD in Germany, True Finns in Finland, Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, PiS in Poland, Donald Trump in the U.S.A.)

If you are interested in contributing, please submit a 500-word abstract of your proposed paper to by September 15, 2020. You will be notified of acceptance by mid-October, 2020. If your proposal is accepted, you will be requested to submit an elaborate outline of your paper by March 1, 2021. We plan to organise a workshop between the 24th and the 26th of March 2021 to discuss the outlines, and organise a first round of editorial feedback. The submission of the final papers will be on September 15, 2021. Papers must be original and should not be previously published or simultaneously been reviewed elsewhere for publication. All manuscripts will then be subjected to an external peer-review process before they are accepted for publication. More details on the paper submission process will be provided once your proposal has been accepted. We plan to have the book published by an international peer reviewed academic publisher. Although no contacts have been signed yet, we are currently in touch with the M.S. Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies (ICAS) about the possibility of having the volume appear in their new series ‘Metamorphoses of the Political: Multidisciplinary Approaches’ published by Cambridge University Press. We aim to have this book published by early 2022. 

For any further inquiries, do not hesitate to contact us at

Posted: 29-06-2020 | Updated: 14-10-2022