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Familiarity as a Tool of Populism and the Case of Suvivirsi


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Einstein Forum, 10 January 2018

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Familiarity as a Tool of Populism and the Case of Suvivirsi

  1. 1. Familiarity as aTool of Populism and the Case of Suvivirsi Einstein Forum, 10 Jan 2018 TuukkaYlä-Anttila (University of Tampere, Finland & Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence, Italy)
  2. 2. Contents • What is populism? • Populism in action • Emotional familiarity as a tool of populism • Suvivirsi, the Summer Hymn • The debate over the Summer Hymn • Justification and familiarity in the debate • Conclusions
  3. 3. What is Populism? • A movement (Wiles 1969) • An ideology (Mudde 2007, Stanley 2008) • A (discursive) logic (Laclau 2007) • A (discursive) frame (Aslanidis 2015) • A practice (Jansen 2011) • A style (Moffitt 2016) • A repertoire (Brubaker 2017) • A toolkit (Ylä-Anttila 2017) • Politics based on the people vs. the elite • People = real, authentic, natural, honest, everyday, simple; • Elite = corrupt, bureaucratic, technocratic; distant from common sense, everyday experiences, and the will of the people; tells ‘us’ what to do and how to live • People as nation / people as class (and corresponding elites)
  4. 4. Problems with ‘Ideology’ • So many ‘populists’ it’s hard to see what’s the ‘ideology’ • People’s Party of 1890s USA, Narodniks in1860s–70s Russia, George Wallace in 1960s, Hugo Chavez, Perónism, Silvio Berlusconi,Thaksin Shinawatra, Geert Wilders, Jörg Haider, Marine Le Pen,Timo Soini, Jussi Halla-aho,Tea Party, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, M5S, Pirate Parties, SYRIZA, Podemos, Occupy,AfD... • How much does ‘populism’ tell us about their ideology? • ‘Minimal’ (lowest common denominator) vs.‘maximal’ definitions of populism • Is ‘populism’ or ‘nationalism’ central in ‘right-w. populism’? • (e.g. Moffitt 2016, Mudde 2007, Stavrakakis et al. 2017) • How to study an internalized system of values? • Are you ‘really’ ‘a populist’ or is it just strategic?
  5. 5. Studying Populism in Action, Empirically • Populism as a cultural toolkit (Swidler 1986) • A shared set of practices used to make sense of and do politics • Presents politics as a battle of the people vs. the elite • More/less, not yes/no (Brubaker 2017, Moffitt 2016) • Rather than studying pre-defined ‘populists’, study how people do (or don’t do) populism (Jansen) • Politicians in parliaments, campaigns • But also citizens in public debates, social media, countermedia • Emotional familiarity in the Suvivirsi debate (Ylä-Anttila 2016) • Demanding that personal feelings be accepted as political arguments rather than framing demands by general values • Contesting experts in populist countermedia (Ylä-Anttila 2018) • ‘Common sense’ & ‘counterknowledge’
  6. 6. Emotional Familiarity as a Tool of Populism • What are the most commonly recognized tools of valorising the people and denigrating the elite? • Populism appeals to emotions and creates a sense of crisis • Populism often presents itself as an emotionally appealing solution to the crisis, an alternative to politics-as-usual • Which sociological tools could we use to analyse such dynamics? • Communities of feeling ‘bring individuals together in a bounded, usually public, space for a discrete time period to express emotional energy’ (Berezin 2002: 39) • Common-places are material or cultural things which facilitate the sharing of deep personal feelings (Thévenot) • Suvivirsi (the Summer Hymn) is a common-place, and the people singing it form a community of feeling which can be used politically
  7. 7. Suvivirsi (The Summer Hymn) • Swedish in origin, popularised in Finland after the Great Famine of 1695–1697, included in church hymnbook 1701 • Thanks God for the arrival of spring and the coming harvest • Typically sung by students in schools’ end-of-semester ceremonies in the spring • Often said that ‘all Finns know the song by heart’ • But definition of ‘all Finns’ is changing: 95% were church members in 1970, down to 75% in 2014 and declining • Since 2002, subject of debate each spring •
  8. 8. Research Material
  9. 9. Research Material “Should Suvivirsi be sung in schools’ spring ceremonies?” • 358 comments from parliamentary candidates in 2011
  10. 10. Cultural Significance of Suvivirsi • ‘Suvivirsi will soon ring out in Finnish schools to mark the beginning of summer’ (News, 27 May 2002) • An ice-hockey team that lost a tournament was ‘seen off to summer holidays by Suvivirsi’ (sung by fans of the opposing team, Sports, 24 March 2003) • Even a new medical implant for the hearing-impaired is introduced by telling the story of second-grader Tuulia, who, thanks to the implant,‘can now join the others in singing Suvivirsi’ (News, 31 May 2003)
  11. 11. The Debate • 30 May 2002, a reader,‘grandmother’ by title, writes in the HS opinion section that she is ‘deeply concerned’ over the fact that some kindergartens do not sing Suvivirsi ‘because there are a few Muslims amongst the children’ • Håkan Mattlin from the Ministry of Education states that ‘Suvivirsi will not be silenced’ (Opinion, 6 June 2002) • 2002–2014: no calls to ban Suvivirsi, instead 13 reports that it will not be banned • Still, dozens of angry letters defending it! ‘I heard that an EU directive forbids singing the fourth verse of Suvivirsi in schools, since it mentions Jesus!’ (Opinion, 10 November 2002)
  12. 12. Justification • Is Suvivirsi ‘religious’ or ‘cultural’? • ‘a part of our cultural heritage’ (Opinion, 29 May 2014) • ‘part of Finnish culture’ (Opinion, 28 March 2014) • ‘it’s a part of our national cultural heritage despite its religious background’ (Opinion, 15 April 2014) • ‘Hasn’t Suvivirsi always echoed in Finnish schools at the end of May. It is an essential part of Finnish cultural heritage.’ (65, M, Finns Party)
  13. 13. Cultural Incompatibility with Islam • ‘they shouldn’t be allowed to change our traditions’ (HS Opinion, 30 May 2002) • Banning Suvivirsi would be a continuation of ‘insulting the values of the majority, trampling on women’s rights, silent acceptance of genital mutilation and honour violence’ (HS Opinion, 28 February 2011) • ‘If our tradition is offensive to someone, they should move to a country whose traditions don’t offend them. I understand immigrants have come here to get help.Why are they trying to take over the country.’ (58, F, Finns Party)
  14. 14. Familiarity • It is ‘a part of the shared experience of many generations’ (Opinion, 29 May 2014) and arouses ‘feelings of nostalgia’ (Column, 11 May 2014) • It contains ‘a powerful emotional charge’ (interview with Deputy Chancellor of Justice, 4 April 2014) • Physically felt emotions: • It ‘moves’ you (News, 26 December 2015),‘makes you weep’ (News, 26 December 2015),‘causes shivers’ (Column, 21 July 2013) and ‘makes your heart pound’ (News, 3 June 2011) • ‘It still brings tears to my eyes when I sing it.This I want to be continued and this feeling I hope will be passed to children.’ (42, F, National Coalition) • ‘it feels familiar’ (63, M, Social Democrat)
  15. 15. Insults to Familiarity • ‘If Finns have to look at the religious dress of Muslims and the subordination of women under the guise of religion, so we can without worry sing Suvivirsi once a year! IS THIS QUESTION SOME SORT OF JOKE???’ (53, F, Finns Party) • ‘Totally unbelievable that someone would even question this’ (57, M, Finns Party) • ‘Give me a break!!’ (45, M, Finns Party) • ‘That’s it’ (58, F, Finns Party) • Two candidates just wrote ‘Jo joutui armas aika...’ • N.B. these are politicians running for parliament, writing down their justifications for their opinions for voters to read!
  16. 16. Justification and Familiarity
  17. 17. Justification and Familiarity
  18. 18. Familiarity as a Tool of Populism • Using the emotional familiarity of Suvivirsi in a political debate is an implicit demand that familiarity be accepted as justification • Particular, personal, emotional; rather than general and ‘official’ • Siding with (an idealized notion of) ‘the common people’, who don’t have to refer to abstract principles of justice (like politicians), they just know what is right • Also a nostalgic argument: we didn’t have to debate this before
  19. 19. ‘Communities of Feeling’ • ‘political identities are ... distant from the concerns of ‘‘ordinary life’’ ... Political identities are public identities. They frequently take second place to more deeply felt private identities’ (Berezin 2001: 83) • This gap between deeply felt private identity and political identity is what populism tries to bridge • A common-place (Thévenot 2014) can act as this bridge • ‘Your personal identity is your political identity!’ • Community of feeling: those brought together by a familiar experience • This community is given a nationalist meaning
  20. 20. Conclusions • Familiarity is an effective tool of populism: • ‘Our politics is not about politicians and bureaucrats, but ordinary, simple, comfortable, everyday life’ • About feelings rather than facts or abstractly presented ‘values’ • Such familiarity can be used to bridge the gap between personal feelings and political identities • It may broaden the gamut of acceptable claims in politics • But such claims tend to be exclusionary, since they can only be felt by those sharing the experience