Conceptualizing Backlash Politics

Forthcoming in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, as part of a special issue on Backlash Politics in Comparison

iCourts Working Paper Series No. 174

33 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2019 Last revised: 13 Jul 2020

See all articles by Karen J. Alter

Karen J. Alter

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science; University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence

Michael Zürn

WZB Berlin Social Science Center; Freie Universität Berlin

Date Written: November 6, 2019

Abstract

This is the framing paper for a special issue on backlash politics in comparison. Despite the widespread sense that backlash is an important feature of contemporary national and world politics, there is remarkably little scholarly work on the politics of backlash. This special issue conceptualizes backlash politics as a distinct from of contentious politics. Backlash politics include three necessary elements: 1) a retrograde objective of returning to a prior social condition, 2) extraordinary goals and tactics that challenge dominant scripts, and 3) a threshold condition of entering mainstream public discourse. When backlash politics combines with frequent companion accelerants– nostalgia, emotional appeals, taboo breaking and institutional reshaping– the results can be unpredictable, contagious, transformative and enduring. Contributions to this special issue engage this definition to advance our understanding of backlash politics. The special issue’s conclusion draws insights about the causes and dynamics of backlash politics that lead to three potential outcomes: a petering out of the politics, the construction of new cleavages, or a retrograde transformation. Creating a distinct category of backlash politics brings debates in American politics, comparative politics, and international relations together with studies of specific topics, facilitating comparisons across time, space and issue areas and generating new questions that can hopefully promote lesson drawing.

Suggested Citation

Alter, Karen J. and Zürn, Michael, Conceptualizing Backlash Politics (November 6, 2019). Forthcoming in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, as part of a special issue on Backlash Politics in Comparison, iCourts Working Paper Series No. 174, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3481735 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3481735

Karen J. Alter (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science ( email )

601 University Place
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence ( email )

Karen Blixens Plads 16
Copenhagen, DK-2300
Denmark

Michael Zürn

WZB Berlin Social Science Center ( email )

Reichpietschufer 50
Berlin, 10785
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.wzb.eu/en/persons/michael-zurn

Freie Universität Berlin ( email )

Ihnestraße 22
Berlin, 14195
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.fu-berlin.de/presse/expertendienst/experten/z/zuern/index.html

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