Populism and the Power of Performative Transgressions

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Werner BINDER, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
Jeffrey Alexander’s theories of civic sphere and social performance suggest that political actors have to orient themselves toward the shared code of civil society in order to be successful. They have to obey to the norms of civility and avoid any form of symbolic pollution in order to become a sacred representation of a societal community. The performative strategies of populist politicians around the world and in particular the electoral success of Donald Trump suggests otherwise. I propose to revisit our theoretical assumptions regarding the theory of the sacred and performance theory. More specifically, I will explore the theoretical implications and political consequences of performative “transgressions”, drawing on the works of Durkheimians like George Bataille as well as on a more recent paper by Dmitry Kurakin (2015). In order to understand the power of transgression, we have to follow the suggestion of Kurakin and rediscover the ambivalence of the sacred in Durkheim’s theory, in which the sacred is not only opposed to the profane (understood as mundane), but exists in two forms, the pure sacred and the impure sacred (often conflated with the profane). I will argue that the transgression of sacred norms is an overlooked populist strategy to perform “authenticity” (1) and to create new forms of the sacred as the impurity produced by transgressions can easily become purified (2). Finally, the power of transgression will be illustrated using examples of performances by the Czech president Miloš Zeman as well as by the American president Donald Trump.