Populism As Politics of Personal Experience: The Case of Suvivirsi

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 9:15 AM
Room: 411
Distributed Paper
Tuukka YLÄ-ANTTILA , Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki, Finland
In this paper, I will present one possible sociological interpretation of conservative populism, recently of rising popularity all over Europe. I will base my analysis on Laurent Thévenot’s sociology of engagements and use texts from candidates of the conservative populist Finns party in the 2011 Finnish parliamentary elections as empirical examples. In the texts, the candidates appeal to the shared national experience of singing a traditional Christian spring hymn, Suvivirsi, as schoolchildren. I will argue that populism can be interpreted as an attempt to expand the gamut of acceptable political claims to include claims based on personal experiences, where the physical and emotional proximity to significant persons and objects is of crucial importance.

This is in contrast to a typical requirement in mainstream politics: to distance one’s self from one’s demands. It is customary to present political claims as based on universally accepted and abstractly communicated principles of justice such as democracy, the market mechanism or technical efficiency, instead of mere personal preference. The populist mode of argumentation is in stark contrast particularly to typical Finnish expectations of politics, focused on efficiency.

To make this argument, I need to present four elements: first, Boltanski & Thévenot’s theory of public justification; second, a brief overview of Finnish political practices; third, Thévenot’s sociology of engagements; and fourth, the case of Suvivirsi and the populist and non-populist practices in which it is used in nationalist political argumentation. I conclude with a discussion of the implications of this interpretation, pointing out that nationalist politics made with reference to personal affinities can be even more exclusionary than ones based on public justifications. On the other hand, however, an acceptance of personal affinities into politics is also a possibility for political movements of other types, not just reactionary conservative nationalism.