Populist Resentments and the Construction of Geographies of Inequality. Investor, Client and Hiring Relations in Eastern Thuringian Firms.

Authors: Sebastian Henn*, University of Jena, Matthias Hannemann, Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Topics: Economic Geography, Europe, Rural Geography
Keywords: Populism, geographies of discontent, othering, regional development, Thuringia, Germany
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 35
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The rise of populism and related geographies of discontent have become a central subject in the recent debate on regional inequalities. Research on this topic so far has primarily taken a synoptic perspective, relating different factors such as income and voting behavior. Although these studies have undoubtedly contributed to our understanding of regional inequalities, they fail to sufficiently explore and analyze the social and economic processes on a micro-level that ultimately constitute economic differences between regions. The present contribution therefore seeks to broaden the ongoing discussion on regional inequalities by looking at concrete economic actions of local actors and their consequences for regional development. In particular, we argue that collective social practices of ‘othering’ related to xenophobic attitudes can have a long-term negative impact on regional development thus creating or even aggravating macro-spatial inequalities. Our study is based on an in-depth analysis of Eastern Thuringia, a region that has been characterized for some time by significant xenophobic attitudes on the part of a large share of the population, and, accordingly, by election successes of populist parties. We analyze the attitudes that management and workforces in local SMEs adopt towards foreigners and discuss how this affects the acquisition of investors, customers and skilled workers. Furthermore, we demonstrate that in many cases actions based on populist attitudes affect the business location as a whole and thus help to the consolidate existing regional inequalities. Based on our findings, we derive recommendations for regional policy that aims at reducing such imbalances.

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