Presenting on Heller, cultural populism and political dynamics in “Gender, language and politics” Vienna

When as an academic you get behind your work because of illness like the autumn flue, nobody does your work for you. Recovered, in my case of four wastes weeks in September and November, the workload has to be managed. That means intensive work on things which could have been more carefully studied. However, rush can be central for developing ideas. In my case it was.

Having said yes to Tuija Saresma, who was invited to organise a panel at the professor emerita, Ruth Wodak’s conference Gender, Language and Politics, I had to rethink my ongoing work and present for the second time in a feminist conference. I wrote a paper, which not only united the two Academy of Finland projects I’ve been working, but also my previous work, including the doctoral thesis. Flying to Vienna for the conference, I realised

  1. just how much my own political theory – or my take on Ernesto Laclau’s theory on politics and populism, the populist dynamics, actually draws on Austrian politics. After all, I rewrote my PhD thesis for Essex, at the IWM, Institute for Human Sciences, in Vienna. I also managed to briefly illustrate my framework, and use it throughout the presentation;
  2. that from my pre-doctoral research, I have been working on cultural populism – in the terms I understand it today, which I managed to explain in the presentation. The case of Heller fits the framework of cultural populism as the, potentially, last case, after research on political memory and symbols, street names, memorials, and architecture.
  3. that as I am claiming to build a theoretical framework to contribute to comparative analysis, the case of Heller in Hungary could usefully be compared to the case of Austria, in terms of political mobilisation or the lack of it.
  4. the answer to the question, what is the difference between cultural populism and kulturkampf. And that answer fits with my framework through the concept of ‘competing populism’.

How productive can the two-hour flights be! That was a thought to celebrate with a class of sparkling wine.  Working further, I had to add again the notions of universalism and particularism that Ernesto usefully discussed in his essay (Laclau 1995), which I have been translating with a colleague in Finnish – without this it would have been impossible to understand Heller’s politics.

One of the key points of the presentation was the discursive loop is produced between Heller and the Orbán government, and that contributes to the fragmentation of the opposition in Hungary.

A crucial question for me was how can one deal with someone who is not a supporter of gender studies, in a gender studies conference. The answer is of course already in the question, and in that already-mentioned loop, where the discourse on Heller in the right-wing press anti-feminist, irrespective of whether she is a feminist or not.

Policy recommendation: Keep funding conferences!

Anyway, managing to put all that in the slides and give a sensible presentation in the 22 minutes that I had, receiving and answering great questions, made me feel really good about me, us, the conference. Going to conferences is a crucial part of academic life. We thrive – the academia thrives – on presenting to new audiences, having to package one’s thinking and receiving questions and opportunities to hear other presentations, insights and research.

With the current funding cuts on the university sector across Europe, we should keep in mind the necessity to go to and organise conferences. They don’t have to be expensive or exclusive (see this post from years ago). But they should have enough time and space for interaction, even when one is in a seminar room for 10-12 hours in a conference day. This has been a good one, in providing a great space for interaction.

Elisabeth Holzleithner On Orange is the New Black in the Gender Language and Politics conference.
Elisabeth Holzleithner On Orange is the New Black in the Gender Language and Politics conference.

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