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About this Research Topic

Abstract Submission Deadline 28 February 2023
Manuscript Submission Deadline 31 July 2023

Populism remains a crucially vital form of politics worldwide despite numerous recent attempts at proclaiming its end.

The pandemic and post-pandemic global scenario has brought to the fore an especially salient aspect of populism that had already been noticed by some especially insightful observers in political sciences and political theory: the relationship between populism and (mis)trust.

Both populism and (mis)trust are hard to define and harder to measure. Yet they are central elements in contemporary politics. Literature in democratic studies and related areas has so far failed to devolve to this interplay the attention it deserves, and the dramatic changes in contemporary politics make it urgent to update the scarce scientific understanding publicly available on the issue.

Populism has been described as a reaction to the ‘broken promises of democracy’. The perspective of an unfulfilled political-institutional commitment effectively captures the crucial role of (mis)trust in explaining the political phenomenon of populism. The present Research Topic inquires precisely into this, by addressing the research and interdisciplinary gap between a philosophical political theory of trust and both theoretical and empirical studies of populism.

The normative horizon of this research consists of an attempt at devising ways to mend the fissure in democracy which is represented by populist distrust, thereby reinstituting both endogenous and exogenous trust in political institutions. At the same time, this inquiry aims at taking stock of the inescapable political dilemmas illuminated by the populist challenges, which make populism appear both a ‘threat and corrective’ for democracy.

This interdisciplinary, international inquiry into the encounter between populism and (mis)trust should greatly contribute to deepen the scientific consensus on it as well as to bring it to bear to the quickly evolving international political environment.

We are interested in three main (sub) themes:

The first is the emotional grounding of populist mistrust in elites and democracy. For example, Zygmunt Bauman talks of (liquid) fear as one of the constitutive emotional states of the postmodern condition, to be opposed to trust in the city-polis that is being reshaped by globalization and technological progress. From the point of view of social psychology, fear calls for (strong) protection. Michael Sandel also speaks of disdain, ‘hatred and contempt’, and Jan-Werner Müller, more critically, of ‘anger’ and ‘resentment’ as populist symptoms.

The second dimension explores the socio-economic grounds for the emergence of the populist ‘moment’ in both national and international politics. The growth of at least some dimensions of inequality and the legitimation crisis of neoliberalism in the eye of a significant share of the electorate have in fact ingenerated a chain-reaction of populist discontent and mistrust into – allegedly – privileged elites while precipitating the credibility of some political institutions into disrepute.

The third dimension is an examination of the identitarian grounds for populist mistrust. These include populist subversion of the legitimizing rationale of representative democracy, by which the subject of democracy is construed as "Me, the People" , and representation turns into a mere instrument of pars pro parte struggle. Moreover, the identitarian dimension includes the complex and debated relations between populism, nativism, and ethnonationalism.

Keywords: Populism, Trust, Mistrust, Political Theory, Political Science, Democracy, Democratic Theory


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Populism remains a crucially vital form of politics worldwide despite numerous recent attempts at proclaiming its end.

The pandemic and post-pandemic global scenario has brought to the fore an especially salient aspect of populism that had already been noticed by some especially insightful observers in political sciences and political theory: the relationship between populism and (mis)trust.

Both populism and (mis)trust are hard to define and harder to measure. Yet they are central elements in contemporary politics. Literature in democratic studies and related areas has so far failed to devolve to this interplay the attention it deserves, and the dramatic changes in contemporary politics make it urgent to update the scarce scientific understanding publicly available on the issue.

Populism has been described as a reaction to the ‘broken promises of democracy’. The perspective of an unfulfilled political-institutional commitment effectively captures the crucial role of (mis)trust in explaining the political phenomenon of populism. The present Research Topic inquires precisely into this, by addressing the research and interdisciplinary gap between a philosophical political theory of trust and both theoretical and empirical studies of populism.

The normative horizon of this research consists of an attempt at devising ways to mend the fissure in democracy which is represented by populist distrust, thereby reinstituting both endogenous and exogenous trust in political institutions. At the same time, this inquiry aims at taking stock of the inescapable political dilemmas illuminated by the populist challenges, which make populism appear both a ‘threat and corrective’ for democracy.

This interdisciplinary, international inquiry into the encounter between populism and (mis)trust should greatly contribute to deepen the scientific consensus on it as well as to bring it to bear to the quickly evolving international political environment.

We are interested in three main (sub) themes:

The first is the emotional grounding of populist mistrust in elites and democracy. For example, Zygmunt Bauman talks of (liquid) fear as one of the constitutive emotional states of the postmodern condition, to be opposed to trust in the city-polis that is being reshaped by globalization and technological progress. From the point of view of social psychology, fear calls for (strong) protection. Michael Sandel also speaks of disdain, ‘hatred and contempt’, and Jan-Werner Müller, more critically, of ‘anger’ and ‘resentment’ as populist symptoms.

The second dimension explores the socio-economic grounds for the emergence of the populist ‘moment’ in both national and international politics. The growth of at least some dimensions of inequality and the legitimation crisis of neoliberalism in the eye of a significant share of the electorate have in fact ingenerated a chain-reaction of populist discontent and mistrust into – allegedly – privileged elites while precipitating the credibility of some political institutions into disrepute.

The third dimension is an examination of the identitarian grounds for populist mistrust. These include populist subversion of the legitimizing rationale of representative democracy, by which the subject of democracy is construed as "Me, the People" , and representation turns into a mere instrument of pars pro parte struggle. Moreover, the identitarian dimension includes the complex and debated relations between populism, nativism, and ethnonationalism.

Keywords: Populism, Trust, Mistrust, Political Theory, Political Science, Democracy, Democratic Theory


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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