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
Date Written: November 6, 2019
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.
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