Digital Populism and the Young: Populism, Young People and the World Wide Web in Theory and Practice

  • Monday 8 September 2014

  • University of Leicester

A free one-day conference organised by the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester as part of the e-Engagement Against Violence Project (eEAV).

This conference aims to provide a forum for academics and practitioners with interests in populism, discrimination, internet safety, media education and anti-racist education to come together and exchange ideas and perspectives on the issue of populist politics, online media and young people. Speakers are invited to address the questions raised by these developments, including contemporary populist forms and approaches to discussing populist-type narratives in and out of the classroom.

Conference themes

Although a rough consensus exists around populism as a form of political discourse that establishes a clear divide between an overly simplified and uncritically virtuous ‘us’ and a homogenous and hostile mass that is represented as ‘them’, there is little common ground beyond this. However, this simple and attractive template narrative can be transplanted into political arguments from all sides, from radical left wing groups to those on the far right-wing.

Movements and political parties using populist narratives are seemingly increasing their role in contemporary political debate, both in the UK and in Europe more widely. In France, Generation Identitaire has created an entirely new youth movement, whilst parties such as the FPO in Austria and Cassa Pound in Italy continue to feature in elections.

In the UK, home grown populists are arguably present in the form of the British National Party and UKIP, as well as more diffuse social movements such as the English Defence League and the wider 'counter-jihad' movement. There is also an argument to suggest that government and opposition political narratives also rely on identifying and exploiting divisive themes such as immigration and social security.

Against this backdrop, the web has evolved into a key communications tool for organisations of all stripes, including those that use populist narratives. The internet allows extensive and unmediated contact between ideologies, ideologues, and potential supporters. This poses serious questions, and in some quarters concern, over the potential of online populist communication to influence the ideas and opinions of a generation of young people who are the first to grow up in a predominantly digital media environment.

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Part of the e-Engagement Against Violence Project (eEAV), funded through the European Commission’s DAPHNE funding stream.