In 2017, the Cambridge dictionary picked ‘populism’ as its ‘word of the year’. This is of no surprise. In the European context in particular, populism is blamed for serious problems, such as the polarisation of political life, the decline of trust towards institutions, political instability, and the aggression and stridency seen in the public sphere. However, the wide use of the term raises questions about what exactly is captured by it, and whether it offers a fruitful way of framing all these developments. Despite the impressive growth we see in populism research in the last decade, little attention has been drawn to how traditional liberal-centrist political and media actors counter the challenge of populism – i.e. to anti-populism. What often goes unnoticed is that the negative valence that ‘populism’ has acquired, and its elevation to a central political frame may itself be contributing to polarisation by solidifying a new divide along the populism/anti-populism line. Anti-pop will explain the role of anti-populism in political and media discourse and its confrontation with populism, and the implications of these for democratic debate. It will do this by developing an innovative interdisciplinary approach combining tools from linguistics with rhetorical analysis and concepts from political theory, and deploying it for the analysis of a large and varied body of data. Anti-pop’s findings and dissemination approach will foster in-depth reflection and assessment of this framing in European media, political, and institutional discourse, and will contribute to the nuancing of public debate.
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