Nationalism, discourse and rhetoric

Nationalism has been the subject of sporadic rhetorical inquiry in the past, but has seen an increase in recent years, both as an instrument of empowerment (especially for minorities) and one of pernicious symbolic border drawing aiming at marginalization and exclusion of population groups. Most recently nationalism has typically been studied by rhetoricians in connection with issues of populism. Rhetorical scholarship on this topic takes its starting point in specific utterances (written or spoken text, images or other forms of symbol use in the public sphere) and examines how the text shapes and performs a particular worldview and how it appeals to particular audiences. Overall theoretical perspectives include propaganda, deliberative democracy, rhetorical citizenship, listening rhetoric, argumentation studies and research inspired by political theory, social psychology, and anthropology. While many of these fields have contributed significantly to our understanding of the appeal of nationalism and populism in broad strokes, there remains a need for more attention to the specific argumentative and emotional appeals that seem to drive these movements in order to gain a better understanding of how to engage them constructively albeit critically.

Suggested PhD/postdoc projects

What it means to be “us”: Nationalism, patriotism and citizenship in contemporary public discourse (proposed PhD project)

This PhD project focuses on how notions of nationalism and related issues such as citizenship and patriotism are mobilised in contemporary public discourse, e.g. by politicians, pundits, or in online debates, and the functions they serve. To inquire into the ways in which specific language use – including audience interpellations, argument structures, use of topoi, emotional appeals, etc. – works to influence collective notions of identity the project will select a body of current texts from a national setting – Danish or other – that draws on notions of nationalism to formulate political goals, qualify notions of citizenship, and influence public norms of civic culture. Using a combination of methods including close textual analysis, rhetorical criticism, and qualitative audience reception studies the project will inquire into the significance of the idea of the nation-state and the normative and ideological functions it serves in a contemporary setting, e.g. in relation to issues of democracy, populism, and demagoguery.

Nationalism and populism: What are the options for better public debate in politically polarized times? (proposed postdoc project)

Working from the presumption that nationalism thrives in – and contributes to – a polarized political climate, this postdoc project maps research across fields such as political science, anthropology and communication studies that has dealt with the theme of political discussion across great difference (Young, Goodin, Dryzek, Chambers, Mutz, Hochschild, Glenn, Ratcliffe). The purpose of the project is to describe the relation between nationalist and populist discourse, identify key challenges and opportunities for fostering constructive political discussion across divides that are often perceived as having even more to do with socio-economic status and geography than political difference, and to theorize – and possibly develop in practice – formats for more inclusive political exchange.

Other options (postdoc or PhD) in collaboration with the sub-programme Nationalism and populism

  • Populism: affect and/or rationality?
  • Can populism and democracy go together?

Responsible researcher

Associate professor Lisa S. Villadsen is responsible for this theme. Her research focuses on contemporary political discourse, rhetorical citizenship and democratic dissent. She is currently working on a book chapter on themes of elite/people, reason/emotion and the rhetorical strategy of scapegoating in Danish populist discourse. Other core members or associate faculty would lend themselves well as main or secondary supervisors/mentors, depending on the concrete projects.