Reading Budapest: Political Polarisation in Contemporary Hungary

Abstract of my thesis, defended at the University of Essex on 19 January 2006:

The thesis aims at capturing a logic of political polarisation through an in-depth study of contemporary Hungary, a study which will combine rigorous empirical research with reflection upon the phenomenon of polarisation. The problem of political polarisation has become pronounced in Hungary since the turn of the millennium, and particularly since 2002, but the existing studies remain at a descriptive level, rather than outlining the logic and function of polarisation.

The following study reveals political polarisation to be a bipolar hegemony where each camp exists through the construction of the other as its enemy. The situation is frozen over a single frontier which serves as the source of identification for both camps. The political elites – who wish to maintain the situation – either project all political differences and lines of division onto this frontier, or minimize or downplay them.

The articulation of the polarisation, its frontier, and the function it serves, all become apparent in the analysis of the material, which relates to Budapest, and which includes both politician’s speeches and street names, memorials and architecture from the late 1980s to the present (2005). In order to gain insights into the relevant phenomenon, via the varied material, the methodology to be used will combine the discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau with the conceptual history of Quentin Skinner and the writings of Walter Benjamin. The problems of the situation of polarisation for the democratic processes will become apparent through the discussion of Chantal Mouffe’s critique of consensual politics.

The thesis seeks to offer insights not only into contemporary Hungarian politics or postcommunist polarisation but also into politics and polarisation more generally, through the development of Laclau’s theory of hegemony. It makes a particular contribution to the study of political rhetoric and the role of rhetoric in the process of articulation and construction of discourses. Furthermore, it opens the way to the use of non-linguistic sources, such as architecture, in social science research.

I gained my doctorate in Ideology and Discourse Analysis on 20 January 2006. The thesis is not yet published.

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