From the ground up: visualizing populist territorial imaginations

Authors: Christopher Lizotte*, University of Helsinki
Topics: Political Geography, Qualitative Methods, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: territory, affective cartography, populism, territorial imagination
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The recent populist surge across the world has made clear a need to understand the geographical roots of populist mobilization strategy. In particular, the territorial dimensions of these strategies is especially important, given the emphasis placed upon borders, mobility, and national identity by contemporary populist groups. This paper outlines a framework for understanding the range of territorial imaginaries that populists use to construct a fundamental struggle of the “people” against the “elite.” Drawing on work in political science that identifies populism as a performative style (e.g. Moffitt, 2016), I begin from the premise that populism likewise "performs" portrayals of territory in simplistic and reductive ways in order to articulate its grievances and outline its political goals. This includes, for example, slogans like "build a wall" that reduce the four-dimensional complexity of migration to a two-dimensional territorial imagination. The framework presented in this paper aims at constructing a typology of the most common territorial images employed by populist movements. It does this in order to answer a key question: by identifying a general set of populist territorial policies - whether those be limiting immigration, expelling unwanted populations, or withdrawing from international agreements - and abstracting out their underlying assumptions about space, can we highlight their inherent contradictions, exclusions, and erasures? By analyzing the basic territorial imaginations that fuel populist mobilization, what can we learn more broadly about populist tactics and strategy? And most importantly, do these understandings give us a vocabulary to counter the most harmful populist territorial policies?

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