A multilevel understanding of populist polarisation and its impact on democracy: Bridging the macro and the micro

Muntpunt, Munt 6, 1000 Brussel

a round building on legs

International workshop

The NORFACE Governance UNDPOLAR and POPBACK consortia have joined forces to organise this thematic workshop on the nexus between populism, polarisation and democracy. An in-person meeting is foreseen at this moment. The workshop will, however, strictly adhere to Covid-regulations so that a switch to a hybrid/virtual format can be required. The participants will be notified in such case. Workshop attendance is free of charge and travel grants might available but accommodation will have to be funded by the respective consortiums.

Call for papers

Even though the idea of liberal democracy is still firmly lodged in the hearts and minds of citizens and political elites around the globe, democracy is increasingly challenged from multiple angles. Citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with politics, societies are polarising ever more strongly, and democratic institutions face processes of regression and breakdown.

Building on these concerns about the current state of democracy, this workshop aims to map and tackle the big challenges to democracy in turbulent times, and focuses specifically on the complex relationship between populism, polarisation and democracy. It aims to do so in an interdisciplinary manner by including scholars from social sciences and humanities, in particular political science, social psychology, political economy, legal studies and media studies. We aim to disentangle macro and micro-level processes of populism and polarisation, and study how they interact to contribute to democratic decline. The (non-exhaustive) list of questions for the workshop includes:

  • (How) do populism and polarisation foster de-democratisation?
  • What links polarisation trends at the micro-level (individual, organisational) to polarisation at macro-level (societal, institutional)?
  • Does the rise of populist attitudes, and ideological and affective polarisation among citizens undermine support for democracy?
  • What shape do populism and polarisation take in the media sphere and how does it affect democracy?
  • How can resilient democratic institutions, policies and practices be designed to tackle the challenges of populism and polarisation?

Expected contributions

We invite papers dealing with polarisation, populism and democracy, or a combination of these topics. The workshop welcomes original empirical work, but also theoretical papers, and is open to papers from all methodological traditions assuming that the papers deal with the central topic. Moreover, the workshop will be open to cross-nationally comparative studies as well as case-studies with a wide geographical focus. The proposals can include planned, on-going or finished work.

Paper proposals (abstracts of 250-300 words, with name and affiliation of the author(s)) should be emailed to Lien Smets (lien.smets@vub.be) by June 30th, 2022. Paper proposals, as well as the accepted papers, should be submitted and presented in English. The notification of acceptance will be announced by July 7th, 2022.


  • 30/06/2022: Deadline for paper proposal
  • 07/07/2022: Notification of acceptance
  • 10/10/2022: Submission of the draft paper or presentation
  • 17/10/2022: Paper presentation in Brussels