You are here

Warning message

Attention! This event has already passed.


Thursday, 22 May, 2014 - 14:00 to Thursday, 22 May, 2014 - 18:30
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus


14:00: Welcoming words


Benjamin De Cleen, VUB

Populism, Anti-Populism and the Ambiguities of Democracy: What Chantal Mouffe can Teach us about the Politics of and against the Populist Radical Right

Abstract: One of the main currents in Chantal Mouffe’s work has been the development of a post-Marxist and post-structuralist discourse theory, a conceptual framework for analyzing politics as discursive struggle. Another, closely related current in her work has been the theorization of the notions of democracy, politics and the political and the formulation of a project for what a democratic politics should look like. Looking at contemporary politics, it becomes clear that the signifier ‘democracy’ has itself often been a major element in the discursive struggles between competing political projects. In this talk, I will bring these two currents of Chantal Mouffe’s work together to scrutinize the role played by the signifier ‘democracy’ in the politics of and against the contemporary populist radical right. Both critics of the populist radical right and the populist radical right itself have structured their rhetoric around the notion of democracy, a fact that is allowed by the inherent ambiguities of the notion of (liberal) democracy. Using examples from the history of the Flemish populist radical right Vlaams Blok/Belang and the opposition against it, I will show how the VB, as a populist party, has skillfully claimed the signifier ‘democracy’ by exploiting one dimension of democratic thought. Its opponents have had major issues in dealing with this strategy. Their rhetoric has tended to revolve around an anti-populism that often does not manage to deal with the complexities of democracy and has in some cases led to a rather elitist perspective on democracy that denies the legitimacy of democracy’s popular dimension and of voices outside of the dominant consensus. The relevance of this discussion goes beyond the radical right. It also shows, I believe, how Chantal Mouffe’s work might help us to understand, and problematize, the current rhetoric of but also the rhetoric against populist and Eurosceptic parties, whether situated at the radical right or elsewhere on the political spectrum.

Bio: Benjamin De Cleen is a professor at the Master of Journalism and the department of Communication Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel whose work has been focused on populist radical right discourse and its relation to journalism and culture.



Karen Celis, VUB

Democratic Representation in Times of Diversity: The Case of ‘Good’ Political Representation of Women

Abstract: A true representative democracy requires a strong linkage between citizens and the government. Citizens are supposed to authorize their representatives who are accountable and responsive to them. Democratic representation is thus very much about inclusion of people, issues and interests. With regard to the political representation of women and gendered interests this democratic representation has required the breaking of male dominance in the political institutions like political parties, government and parliament. The women’s movement strived for making women present in these institutions and for breaking down the exclusionary divide between the personal and the political. Women inside and outside of the political institutions joined forces for, for instance, the legalization of abortion, thereby also constructing abortion as a political problem. Substantive representation of women has been strongly linked to the feminist movement and to women as a coherent group of agents of change.

Globalization, increasingly diverse societies and the acknowledgement of the salience of intersectionality however increasingly call for a revision of what constitutes political representation of women, subgroups of women and, arguably, also other groups.  What should stay of course are criteria such as inclusion and the recognition of group issues as a sine qua non for democratic representation. However, the making present of ‘other voices’ requires, in my view, higher degrees of and processes for fostering deliberation and political contestation about what constitutes the groups interest – e.g., is a burqa ban good or bad for ethnic minority women? Here, defining the interest within the democratic institutions seems key, not these institutions acting upon a pre-given interest. Disagreement and the recognition of difference, I claim, should replace, where needed, solidarity between critical actors defined by singular identities and interests.

Bio: Karen Celis is research professor at the Department of Political Science of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and affiliated to RHEA (Centre for Gender and Diversity). She conducts theoretical and empirical research (qualitative, comparative) on political representation of groups (women, ethnic minorities, class, age groups, LGBT), equality policies and state feminism.


16:00: Coffee break



Matthias Lievens, KUL

Being an Activist in Post-Political Times: Turning the Veil of Consensus into a Germ of Agonism

Abstract: “There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t,” Leonard Cohen once sang. Something similar is at stake in many emancipatory political struggles: social movements often do not only advocate a specific cause, but also have to fight for the legitimacy of their struggle to be recognized as such. This second dimension of political struggle becomes especially important in post-political times. Drawing on an analysis of recent environmental activism, this paper addresses the obstacles and possibilities activists are confronted with when trying to build political identities and overcome post-politics.

Bio: Matthias Lievens is affiliated as a postdoctoral researcher in political philosophy to the Institute for Philosophy and the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, both at KU Leuven. He is co-author of De mythe van de groene economie. Valstrik, verzet, alternatieven (EPO/Jan van Arkel, 2012).



Chantal Mouffe

The Common or the Public: Which Objective for the Social Movements?

Abstract: I will take issue with the current exaltation of the ‘common’ by the theorists who celebrate the role of the multitude and its capacity for self-organization. I will argue that the rejection of the notion of the ‘public,’ identified with the oppression of the state, could prevent acknowledging the heterogeneity of the protest movements and the need to politically articulate their demands so as to establish a progressive collective will.


17:45: Q&A


18:15: Closing words


18:30: Drinks


Entrance is free, but registration is required

You can no longer submit using form.