Constructing 'the people' and the past: the alternative für Deutschland, collective memory, and populism as a repertoire




Prosser, Andrew Edwin

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Populism is a key, albeit ambiguous, feature of the contemporary political landscape. Prevalent conceptualizations of ‘populism’ are not analytically useful in understanding the nature of the phenomenon; such conceptualizations are useful for identifying populist actors, rather than revealing the specificity of populism. Conventional conceptions of populism do not adequately address the core feature of populism: the construction of ‘the people’ against ‘the elite.’ The thesis argues that conceptualizing populism as a ‘discursive repertoire’ accounts for how populists construct ‘the people’ in practice through identity politics. The thesis tests the efficacy of this approach through a discourse-historical analysis of a ‘hard’ case of populism, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and focuses on how the AfD constructs ‘the people’ through the identity politics of collective memory. The analysis revealed that the AfD uses collective memory to establish continuity between ‘the people’ and the past in ethnocultural terms while simultaneously transcending ethnocultural nationhood by invoking ‘the people’ in the immediate through direct action. Thus, the populist invocation of 'the people' is temporally complex. Therefore, conceptualizing populism as a repertoire reveals the specificity of populist identity politics and, more specifically, the populist use of history.



Populism, Collective Memory, Identity, German Politics and Society, Alternative für Deutschland, German History