CFP AAG 2017: Populism, Democracy, and Expertise in Technological Worlds

Call For Papers
AAG 2017 Boston (April 5-8, 2017)

Session title: Populism, Democracy, and Expertise in Technological Worlds

Kai Bosworth, University of Minnesota
Laura Cesafsky, University of Minnesota

Liberal and radical geographers and political theorists alike discount populist movements, right and left, for political commitments deemed too irrational, too contradictory, or too general. Populist movements, it is argued, bury difference and exclusion beneath imaginations of a singular and unified ‘people’. The feeling is mutual: for their part, ‘peoples’ the world over seem increasingly incredulous of the experts and intellectuals who claim to be officers of their interests. These too-easy dismissals of the people or the elite fail to grapple with key problematics at the heart of mass politics as a critical, conjunctural and proliferating reaction to the concentration of power and expertise in contemporary societies: Why populism now? How might our technologically saturated lifeworlds compel populist movements by mediating communication, or by allowing peoples to realize themselves via technological imaginaries or collective reactions against perceived technological harms? What is the legitimate place of knowledge and expertise in the governance of democratic societies? Must we as critical geographers limit ourselves to “deconstructing the inevitable hierarchies and exceptions without which no people has ever been capable of constituting itself” (Bosteels 2013, p. 3), or can we affirm the articulation of peoples as a fraught but necessary step in the march toward democracy and justice?

We suspect that geographers have much to say about the spatial, technological, and environmental aspects of contemporary populist movements, from Latin American leftisms to Syriza and Podemos, from the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, to eco-populism to resurgent nationalist movements. Debates about populist movements in geography are few, but have tended to critically analyze the constitution of political identity, especially through a desire for a nationalist cohesion (e.g., Hart 2013). By contrast, Swyngedouw’s work on ‘climate populism’ (2010) provides an important – if limited – departure point for understanding the fraught relationship between popular politics and science and expertise. We seek to reignite this conversation by inviting papers that critically investigate the conditions, limitations, and possibilities of populism, especially as seen through, alongside, and as the politics of technology and expertise.

Possible paper topics include but are not limited to:

Fear of elites, especially scientists, engineers, and planners
Masses, crowds, peoples, publics and parties as figures of the popular
Infrastructure, development, and technology
Eco-populism (“neither left nor right but forward”)
Populism and socialism
Right-wing and nationalist populist movements
Political organizing and the internet
Public participation and direct democracy
The “tradition” of populism in Latin America
Popular decolonization movements
Populist anti-intellectualism

We invite interested participants to send their title and 300-word abstract to Laura Cesafsky ( and Kai Bosworth ( by October 15th.

Relevant references:

Bosteels, Bruno. 2013. “Introduction.” In What Is a People? New York: Columbia University Press.
Dean, Jodi. 2009. Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.
———. 2016. Crowds and Party. Brooklyn, NY: Verso.
Dewey, John. The Public and Its Problems. Athens: Swallow Press, 1927.
Fischer, Frank. Citizens, Experts, and the Environment: The Politics of Local Knowledge. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.
Hart, Gillian. Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2013.
Laclau, Ernesto. On Populist Reason. London: Verso, 2005.
———. “Why Constructing a People Is the Main Task of Radical Politics.” Critical Inquiry 32:4 (2006): 646–80.
Mann, Geoff. 2013. “Who’s Afraid of Democracy?” Capitalism Nature Socialism 24 (1): 42–48.
Swyngedouw, Erik. “Apocalypse Forever? Post-Political Populism and the Spectre of Climate Change.” Theory, Culture & Society 27:2–3 (2010): 213–232.
Swyngedouw, Erik, and Japhy Wilson, eds. The Post-Political and Its Discontents: Spaces of Depoliticization, Spectres of Radical Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
Whatmore, Sarah J. “Mapping Knowledge Controversies: Science, Democracy and the Redistribution of Expertise.” Progress in Human Geography 33:5 (2009): 587–98.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Against the Populist Temptation.” Critical Inquiry 32:2 (2006): 551–574.