PhD | Transcending the Divide: Contesting Authoritarian Populism in Protest Music
PhD-candidate: Joanna Zienkiewicz
Institution: University of Groningen
Supervisors: Dr. Sara Strandvad, Dr. Melanie Schiller, Dr. Elizaveta Gaufman
Throughout history, protest music has reflected political developments, expressed resistance, and led to social change. Today, ‘the rise of populism’ pervades the political climate. Populism is based in social divides—pitting ‘good people’ against ‘corrupt elites’—and flaunting coarse (‘low’) behaviours. With Poland and Hungary exemplifying its rapid escalation, the populism of many European parties transforms into authoritarian populism, which impedes the independence of media, judicial authorities and education, and hinders democracy. In this context, international research finds that music is often used by Europe’s populists to normalize their ideas. Yet, music also plays a central role in the mass anti-populist movements that are emerging in Europe.
Anti-populism, neglected in research, is the focus of this interdisciplinary project. In the last decade, anti-populism has often been criticized as largely unsuccessful and ‘feeding into’ the populist idea of social divides. To suggest ways for anti-populism to improve, I aim to analyze the new strategies expressed in widely consumed protest music and assess their sociopolitical effects. For this, I study the music used in Poland’s mass protests against the authoritarian populist party Law and Justice (2015–present). The main question of the proposed research is ‘How and with what effects does anti-populist protest music challenge authoritarian populism?’ I answer this using a grounded approach and innovative mix of analytical and empirical research methods. The case studies of Poland’s contemporary protest music provide novel insights into non-antagonizing methods of resisting populism, countering polarization, and protecting democracy: issues relevant for all of Europe.