Back to the Future?
European Progressions and Retrogressions

6th Interim Conference

Political Sociology Research Network 32
European Sociological Association

National University of Ireland Maynooth
October 29-31st 2020


Department of Sociology, Maynooth University
Maynooth Social Science Institute


a space for colleagues to reflect on the role and function of Political Sociology in generating innovative analyses that can grasp the multiple and complex challenges facing societies

Much attention has been paid to the rise of populist forces, challenges to democratic systems and practices and the undermining of established political, economic and social norms, institutions and practices. These forces, processes and practices have been often framed as having ‘retrogressive’ effects on democracy, secularism as well as political, social, and economic formal and substantive rights. At the same time sociologists are observing forms of resilience, resistance and reconfiguration in state and society that are generative of uneven and at times unpredictable consequences for people across Europe.  As such, progressions are made in interstitial spaces and at times with unexpected outcomes.
Political sociology is well placed to interrogate the continuities and discontinuities in ideas, interests and institutions historically constituted through empire, market and state articulated now through projects ambivalent, supportive or contesting of permanent austerity, increasing securitization, immigration, and climate change.  


We invite paper proposals.

See below for details of panels that invite paper submissions.
You can submit the abstract to be considered for either specific panel or the general session.
If submitting an abstract for a panel please clearly indicate the title of the panel. We also welcome papers for general session.

Submission details: For papers abstracts should not exceed 250 words and submissions must include contact details. 

Please submit to by March 30th 2020.  All submissions will be peer reviewed by the organizing committee and external reviewers.

Further information: Participants are expected to cover their own accommodation and travel costs. Further details on accommodation and travel to follow.

Registration: Participation in the conference is free but all participants are required to register details to follow.

For more information contact the RN32 Coordinators:

Pauline Cullen, Maynooth University (Coordinator) 
Alberta Giorgi University of Bergamo (Vice-coordinator)


Deadline for paper abstracts March 30th 2020
Notification May 30th 2020
Registration August 1st 2020


We seek research that includes: 

  • the politics (macro and micro) of social, economic and cultural change informed by social theoretical insights both classical and contemporary  
  • gendered institutions and intersectional approaches to systems of economic, racial, colonial and gendered inequalities 
  • urbanization, gentrification and local political institutions and practices 
  • civil society and social mobilization, including the effects of contestation and collective action
  • elites in political systems  and civil society 
  • social policy  and social policy making, with specific attention to the process of EU integration;  
  • Political controversies around rights
  • transformations and polarization of the public and the political sphere, digital politics and media, theoretical and empirical insights on populism, its roots and its effects; 
  • politicization of identity, identity politics, political representation, and the transformations of political parties’ membership; 
  • the politics of knowledge and the public role of researchers in political sociology;
  • political  economic analyses of labour markets

The Political Sociology Section of the European Sociological Association (RN 32) has a longstanding commitment to supporting research on social politics, political processes and institutional configurations attendant to European Integration and operating within, across and beyond European societies. Our members work from a diverse range of methodological and theoretical perspectives to examine political formations, social mobilizations and policy processes.


1. Populism, Polarization and Personalization of the Digital Political Sphere

Convenor: Flaminia Saccà, Tuscia University, Italy (
Nineteenth Century’s Mass society is well beyond us. Fordism, mass production, hierarchy, territorial roots, long term plans to which corresponded an equally vast Weberian bureaucratic state apt to manage a mass society, seem now replaced by just in time production that extends its forms to political cultures and organizations. At a social level, just in time production translates into liquid modernity, whereas at a political level, at least in democratic societies, it is reflected by disintermediation, thin political organizations, liquid parties and by the polarization and personalization of political leaders.  Largeassemblies, bottom up discussions, deliberation praxis within political parties or even parliamentary groups give way to social, effective, emotional communication by party leaders, narrowing the spectra, the width, the time and the place for decision making. A polarization and personalization process that is favoured and sustained by social network’s logic and dynamics and that seems capable of narrowing the voice of political activists and possibly of democracy itself.
We welcome papers that focus on social media, populism, polarization, leadership personalization and their effects on the democratic fiber of nations and of public debate

2. Antipopulist mobilizations: strategies, action repertoires and emotional dynamics 
Convenor: Carlo Ruzza, University of Trento, Italy, (

In recent years the study of populism went from being a neglected and theoretically under-thematized topic to a central area of concern of social and political research.  Scholars have debated whether populism is best interpreted as an ideology or a political style, and more recently, they have conceptualized it as a political movement, often framing it in the context of its interaction with oppositional countermovements, and examining the dynamics that these interactions generate. In particular, the analysis has focused on the communicative strategies of populist and anti-populist actors, on the electoral strategies of the actors involved, and on the emotional dynamics generated by the clash between populist and anti-populist formations.
This panel will broadly focus on the interactions between populist and anti-populist actors in several arenas. It welcomes theoretical contributions as well as empirical research based on case studies of populist and anti-populist opposition in national and EU-level contexts. It aims to focus on both institutionalized and emergent populist and anti-populist formations, including movement-parties, civil society groups, and protest events.
3. Populism, Religion and Gender – theorizing the entanglements
Convenors: Cristian Norocel, University of Lund (; Alberta Giorgi, University of Bergamo (

Across the world, the past three decades have witnessed the growing rise to prominence of right-wing populist forces. Increasingly, right-wing populist forces discursively mobilize and articulate gender issue and religious identities.Gender – and particularly biological and binary conceptions thereof – is employed to reclaim a position of hegemony for the masculinity embodied by the leader. Such constructions of native masculinities are in opposition to immigrants’ subaltern and dangerous masculinities threatening “our women”. As such, the women’s bodies become the sacred place of nation, and subject for male competition and control. On the other hand, in some cases right-wing populist forces also present themselves as defenders of existing gender equality and LGBT+ rights, assimilated to a growingly secularized worldview, from the slowly growing (Muslim) migrant population, resolutely essentialized as archaically patriarchal, fervently religious, and violently intolerant. These processes of coopting the gender equality endeavors and the struggle for LGBT+ rights, revive the longstanding racializing discourse of White nations pitted against uncivilized Others, which is underpinned by a particular understanding of their Judeo-Christian roots. Christian religion, heritage or roots have been discursively mobilized to differentiate “natives” from “immigrants” in the right-wing populist discourse, activating religion as a dispositive of othering.
To date, there have been only a few scholarly attempts to systematize knowledge on the intersections between right-wing populism, gender, and religion and in this panel, we aim to collect diverse multidisciplinary entry points that convey the multilayered complexity of the interactions between right-wing populism, gender issues, and religious questions.
4. The Cultural side of Populism: Politics, Emotions and Music in populist times
Manuela Caiani, Scuola Normale Superiore (; Anna Schwenck, Oldenburg University (; Enrico Padoan, Scuola Normale Superiore (
Discussant: Enrico Padoan.

The rise of populism is usually associated with the economic, political and migration crises that have shook the European Union over the past decade. Dominant explanations mainly stress structural factors: as the negative consequences of economic globalization, in terms of the mobilization of the ‘losers’ as well as ethnic competition, political discontent toward representative democracies, but also a mix of modernization crisis, insecurity and authoritarian legacy. Without denying that multiple structural factors trigger populism, the proposed panel puts emphasis on the cultural and emotional aspects of the populist upsurge.
Above all, the panel will investigate the role of (popular) music in the diffusion of populism, but also in the creation of a social terrain that is favorable to populist mobilization.  Although many definitions of populism indicate that the success of populism largely depends on the mobilization of emotions (e.g Betz 1994, Mazzoleni et al. 2003), empirical research on the connection between populism and the power of cultural artefacts, and especially music, to evoke emotional responses is scarce. As Street (2014: 892) puts it, music has a “well-documented communicative capacity to generate a sense of community, articulate ideas, and communicate emotional insights”. Music with explicit political content (music as “protest”, “propaganda” or “resistance”, Street, 2014: 886) is the most self-evident connection between politics and music. However, music can serve several different purposes within (populist) politics. Music can play a vital role in the normalization or reinforcement of collective identities and the diffusion of political messages. It functions as a powerful tool of direct or indirect recruitment, as it offers access to fan communities and musical events that are seemingly less ideologically-grounded, but grant an array of social and political identifications. Finally, it is a central element of what della Porta and Diani (2006) have called the ‘social movement culture’.
Especially popular music is an integral part of the lives of ordinary citizens in European societies. Birthdays, weddings, funerals and other rituals can hardly be imagined without musical entertainment. As a mass cultural product, mainstream popular music may speak equally to different generations and social classes. It can transform various types of political messages (including populist ones) into integral parts of a seemingly self-evident cultural reality (Dunkel et al 2018). Not least, popular musics' affective power has the potential to shape political identities as well as the narratives that sustain them (Duncombe and Bleiker 2015).
The panel addresses these issues from different disciplinary perspectives (ranging from cultural and political sociology, over political science, to cultural anthropology and musicology), welcoming papers focusing on ‘varieties of populisms’ (right wing and left wing ones).
5. Social disruptions and populism in Central and Eastern Europe
Convenor: Pavel Kanevskiy, Lomonosov Moscow State University (

2010s was a decade of right populism wave in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). It undermined and reversed previous years of democracy building and civil society development, hence being a major regression in the region. Populism is rooted deep in post-communist societies and is driven by economic, cultural, identity and structural factors. There is no simple explanation why populism is unfolding, especially if we take into account that many CEE countries witnessed rising prosperity and have more efficient institutional environment compared to their communist past. Reasons of populism may also have different grounds in the EU member states and former Soviet countries including Russia. Current panel invites for discussion and seeks research on the issues of social disruptions and polarization in CEE and the way it influences populism; role of the civil society and grass-roots activity in dealing with populist trends; inter-generational attitudes towards the politics and rhetoric of populism; interconnections between populism and identities; politics of historical memory and how it affects populism; comparative analysis of populism in different CEE countries and regions.
6. Passionate politics – emotions and political communication in Central and Eastern Europe.
Convenor: Gabriella Szabó, Centre for Social Sciences, Budapest (

Although passions have always been part of politics, so far scholars have claimed their presence exceptional and being harmful to a healthy democracy. But what if emotional appeals are becoming mainstream ways of campaigning and discussing politics in democracies? During the campaign, prior to the European Parliamentary elections, one could frequently see politicians talking about Europe in an emotionally overwhelmed tone, or ignoring political correctness and good manners when attacking opponents. Citizens also seemed to eagerly express their positive or negative feelings and specifically in their online communication voters often use disrespectful tone toward the discussion forum, its participants, or its topic. There is a growing concern among scholars that new discursive practices shattering traditional norms and decorum have moved to the center of politics. The new ‘normality’ has brought, among others, the widespread use of verbal and visual vulgarity and emotionally overwhelmed communication. That is an especially valid claim in the case of Central and Eastern Europe where populist sentiments have become the mainstream of politics, and where political history shows that specific emotional strategies have proved extremely successful; the xenophobic, anti-elitist, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma campaigns seem to have been efficient in arousing fear and public anxiety. The panel aims to bring together media and communication scholars and provide a broader and deeper understanding of the expressive turn in political communication. We present empirical papers that describe the main forms, explain the reasons, and assess the impact of emotions in the EP election campaigns. In this panel, we hope to highlight new possibilities for theory development, methodological innovation and cross-platform approaches to the study of electoral campaigns and emotions.
7. Human rights and digital technologies: a focus on cities.
Convenor: Michele Grigolo, Nottingham Trent University (

Description: The multiple ways in which digital technologies have become part of people’s everyday life, in the context of the wide diffusion of portable smartphones and the internet of things and processes of datafication of a variety of areas of social life, are raising important concerns regarding human rights, while manifesting themselves in cities. As such, an analysis of urban practices can offer an important contribution to the debate about human rights and digital technologies, as well as themes such as accessibility, equality, consent and participation emerging from it. In this analysis, the role played by local authorities and the place of urban policy in the deployment of digital technologies that limit or enhance human rights also come to the forefront. The panel is interested in analysis of urban practices that illuminate the relations and tensions existing between digital technologies and human rights. We are interested in theoretical and empirical contributions that critically approach city practice towards exposing the contested and political nature of the relationship between human rights and digital technologies.
8. Informal cities: actors and processes of the 21th century cities
Convenors: Maria Cristina Marchetti, Sapienza University (, Antonio Putini, Sapienza University (

In the seventies Lefebvre reads the cities as a place of confrontation of opposing worldviews; over time, his right to the city has translated into Harvey's theory of the city as a common at the basis of experiences of political and social resilience/resistance.
In recent years there has been a growing need to promote new ways of producing the city (city making), especially public spaces, due to the reduction of public resources, urban transformations in a commercial sense; new theories stress collaborative approaches in the design and governance of the cities (Do-it-Yourself Urbanism, Tactical Urbanism, Informal Urbanism, Placemaking).
Cities become the natural place where seminal contemporary dichotomies bring to light underlining and giving evidence to the conflict between financial and social needs.
While cities' skylines change according to symbolic and economic needs, urban areas are witness of "regulatory slippage" phenomena (Foster, 2016). At the same time, abandoned places become laboratories of experimentation of new social practices that aims to answer in a sustainable and communitarian way to the above mentioned radical changes. New forms of government inspired by informal attitudes and participatory culture try to involve local areas within bottom-up participative actions that foster civicness and social ties. These grass-roots decision making moments stand as attempts to integrate and improve the traditional processes of governance by adding informal and creative tools to the institutional and representative ones. These kind of aggregative actions develop practices that aims to directly use and to rethink urban spaces. Cities, in this sense, represent a real laboratory of creativity for local development. The flourishing of innovative regulatory approaches that came up beside the traditional city-planning instrument give us evidences of the state of crisis concerning public interest pursuit throughout the institutional tools.
The panel aims to collect empirical and theoretical proposals concerning actors, actions and new models of governance of the urban spaces inspired by or linked to the concept of “informality”.
9. Impacts of environmental participation
Louisa Parks, University of Trento (

The urgency of responding to environmental crises, such as the climate emergency and the sixth mass extinction event, is daily more apparent. At the same time, the failures of current, often fragmented approaches, are clear. Calls for more substantive democracy in defining environmental responses have multiplied in recent years. More participation from citizens has been seen as a potential source for transformative and ambitious ideas, as a remedy for the failure to recognize the different experiences of environmental crisis on the basis of – for example - class, gender, and ethnicity, and as crucial for fostering fair, legitimate and more efficient responses. Research that looks at how different types of citizen participation actually impact on responses to environmental crisis can provide an important contribution to this debate. What are the impacts of participation - in all of its different forms? Mass social movements, advocacy group campaigns, civil disobedience, school strikes, participation in international treaty bodies, judicial activism and community-based natural resource management initiatives are just some examples of ways in which citizens participate in responding to environmental issues. The aim of the panel is to begin to increase our understanding of how, and under what circumstances, different forms of participation can drive transformative environmental governance. Papers that discuss a range of impacts (for example on policies, on public opinion, on participants or others), flowing from a range of different types of citizen participation (ranging from contentious to conventional), and looking at different governance levels (local to global) are invited. Empirical work in particular will be welcomed.
10. Depoliticization and Juridification, or the Retreat of Politics
Convenors: Paul Blokker, CCPS │ University of Bologna (; Fabio de Nardis, CCPS │ University of Salento (
Depoliticization is a concept used to describe the ways in which in particular neoliberalism acts on the systems of government in contemporary democracies and takes the form of a series of changes in the ways power is exercised. As its result, the decision-making process is effectively stripped of its eminently political character (eg de Nardis 2017). Political actors are hence often less responsible for the choices that influence the regulation of society. In this context, economic and cultural processes acquire the characteristics of necessity or even inevitability. Depoliticization is affirmed in various ways. In the European context, according to Hay (2007), a 'governmental', 'discursive' and 'social' depoliticization are particularly observable. Governmental depoliticization consists of moving decision-making from elective arenas to locations outside the places of representation and therefore presented as neutral and independent (central banks, regulatory authorities, agencies of various types, corporations). These shifts reveal depoliticization as one of the effects of meta-governance, which re-regulates governance. Another shift in power, implemented through decisions by governments and national parliaments, benefits actors on a higher scale, such as the (intergovernmental) bodies and procedures of the European Union (eg Fiscal Compact) and the so-called troika (European Council, European Commission and European Bank), and produces various forms of compliance with international agreements and standards, whose enforcement is passed to technical figures and instruments. Technicalization is also an important part of the depoliticization, with the assignment of regulatory effects and the allocation of funding to evaluation technologies or technical procedures to support political decisions that make the decisions evidence-based and removed from social ideologies and pressures. Technology, presented as neutral, becomes the new neoliberal philosophy and 'technicians' become the protagonists, sometimes called on to play roles of 'depoliticized politics' directly. Discursive depoliticization instead has one fundamental outcome: the convergence of preferences towards a single cognitive construction of reality (frame for public actions). It is no coincidence that the prevailing paradigm in the liberal-type political economy has been narrated in the form of a 'single mindset', manifesting a clear cultural hegemony of transnationalized and finance-driven capitalism.

A separate, even if not necessarily contrasting, process is that of juridification. Since the Second World War in particular, democratic systems have seen a strong increase in terms of the importance of law, and human rights as well as constitutional norms in particular, leading to a form of democracy in which the only justificatory language is grounded in the rule of law, constitutionalism and human rights (cf. Gauchet 2002). Part of the wider process of juridification is the specific process of judicialization, which refers to the empowerment of judicial institutions, both on the domestic level (constitutional courts in particular), as well as the transnational level (international courts), and to that of judicial elites and actors in general. Juridication is clearly related to depoliticization, as one instance of independent, technocratic governance. In fact, juridification has been often related to the emergence of global, neoliberal governance (cf. Cutler and Gill 2014).
The combined outcome of the processes described above – depoliticization, technicalization and juridification – is a democratic society in which politics has been losing ground and collective autonomy is particularized and privatized. The panel invites contributions that reflect on these tendencies, including contributions that attempt to explain contemporary manifestations of protest politics as well as populism in their light.
11. Law and constitutions in the European civilizing process(es). Reassessing the multiple evolutions of legal fields in light of Eliasian theory
Convenors: Hugo Canihac, Université Saint-­‐Louis–Bruxelles (; Christophe Majastre, Université Paris 8 (christophe.majastre@univ‐
This panel aims at exploring the relationship between sociological analysis of law, constitutional orders and claims about rights, on one hand, and the analysis of long-­‐term "civilizing process(es)" as advocated by German sociologist Norbert Elias, on the other.
It is fair to say that law and civilization have had an uneasy relationship. Indeed, some authors (Moyn, 2012; Koskenniemi, 2002) recently made the point that the increasing prominence of “rights” in national and international politics since the 19 th century is tightly connected to the promotion of a Western definition of civilization. Accordingly, phenomena such as the emergence of Human Rights, European Law, as well as processes of constitutionalization (both at the national and transnational levels) should be understood as by-­‐products of a Western ideological project. N. Elias’ understanding of "civilization" as an unplanned and open-­‐ended process that results in a growing social and personal regulation of social behavior breaks with this definition of "civilization-­‐as-­‐ideology". This latter understanding, however, opens new questions about the status of legal prescriptions in such a process : How do constitutionalizing fundamental rights, or the evolution of citizenship, influence the long-­‐term building of national-­‐states? Further, what role do rights play "beyond the state" in the constitutionalization of transnational orders, such as in the case of the European Union?
12. Methodological Challenges in Researching Elite Populations
Convenors: Matias López, Graduate Institute of Geneva (; Jayeon Lindellee, Lund University (
Abstract Elites, defined as individuals capable of influencing politics substantially and regularly (Best and Higley 2018), constitute populations that are, almost by definition, small and difficult to approach. Social scientists studying elite populations have thereby raised methodological concerns both related to some structural qualities of elite populations and to the relation between elite populations and researchers (Cousin et al., 2018). To name a few, it is virtually impossible to sample elites using standard survey methods and researchers of elite populations inevitably face the issue of social-desirability bias and strategic answering, as participants are generally well-trained to articulate narratives about themselves and aware of the weight of their opinions. Furthermore, it is hard to systematically address the hidden core of informal power to study powerful individuals without organisational affiliations (Hoffman-Lange, 2018). Another endemic issue in elite research is conceptual - who is in and who is out of elite populations? The term elite itself could in some cases create tensions between the researchers and the researched, for instance in the study of civil society elites and labor elites, where the core ethos of the sector builds on an egalitarian understanding of a society. To Address these and other issues, this panel/round table proposes a discussion on the methodological challenges in elite research and how to overcome them. We are interested in joining senior and junior scholars with on-going or concluded research on elites to discuss how to approach elites, how to get access to exclusive arenas for ethnographic observation, sample frames, sampling strategies and response rates in survey studies, design of questionnaires and interview guides, experiments, mixed-methods, and other subjects of interest to empirical research with elites. We welcome papers and research notes on those and related topics regarding research on different populations, such as those of political elites, economic elites, civil society elites, and international elites.
13. New Scales of Progressions From Below
Kaan Kubilay Aşar, Independent scholar (; Barış Yüksel, University of Bologna (
Marked by the rapid, contentious, and disruptive social transformation, the countries in the Global South has long experimented with a motley collection of statecraft and economic programmes. This transformation has been widely debated in the field of political sociology under an array of conceptual frameworks running the gamut from coercive or hegemonic forms of authoritarian neoliberalism to the delimitation or loss of previously established social rights. However, although the progressions from below manifest in diverse geographies and interact across the world, their impacts on Global North have not been adequately examined. Un Violador en Tu Camino performed by Chilean protesters soon travelled across the globe and almost became a global feminist anthem for the new social movements. Also, when the opposition candidate has won the mayorship against Orban’s political party in Budapest, he greeted Istanbul’s newly elected mayor who needed to win elections democratically twice. As a part of two-years-long collaborative work, this session explores progressions from below with a specific reference to multi-actor relationships, sociabilities and socio-political arrangements constantly emerging and influencing each other. Our attention is directed at the dynamics of contestation and concord between the political actors of Global South and Global North who are enmeshed in multi-scalar relationships of power. By doing so, this session focuses on the reactions emanating from below which gives a direction to the relationship between elites and social policies, reinterprets the role of civil society in protecting social rights, and intensifies the communication between local institutions and political parties. We argue that radical changes today stress that the time is now ripe for a comprehensive evaluation of how we recognize and contemplate not only relationships between progressive and regressive social changes but all relationalities surround them.