Emancipatory rural politics: confronting authoritarian populism

22 June 2017
Paper

If a new political moment can be said to be underway, what are its features? At a time of increasing inequality between rich and poor, rural and urban, labour and capital, the following seem particularly relevant: the rise of protectionist politics and the embrace of nationalism over regional or global integration, whether in trade blocs or international agreements; highly contested national elections, resonant with broad-brush appeals to ‘the people’, in which candidates are rewarded for ‘strong man’ talk that pits insiders against outsiders of different colours, religions and origins; growing concern over the ‘mobile poor’, including refugees and migrants whose presence seems to threaten a shrinking resource base; appeals for security at the expense of civil liberties; a concerted push to increase extractive capitalism at all costs; and, finally, a radical undermining of the state’s ability to support the full range of citizens, while utilising state powers to increase surplus for a minority.

These elements are not evident everywhere, nor are they necessarily evident in their entirety anywhere. At the same time, many are actively working to counter these elements and nowhere is any single political approach absolute. What we see, however, is the rise of politicians, movements and spaces where these political-economic dynamics are playing out, with connections between them; we name these dynamics and these features authoritarian populism.11 As Gusterson (2017 Gusterson, H. 2017. From Brexit to Trump: Anthropology and the rise of nationalist populism.

Our concern in this contribution is not to provide an overarching theorisation of authoritarian populism, but rather to ask: how are these aspects of the contemporary moment playing out in rural areas? How are they shaped by prior transformations in rural society and economy and how do they portend even more dramatic – and usually negative – changes for rural areas?

 

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