Populism and Anti-Populism in Turkey: Radical Cynical Responses to Populist Mass Politics


Fri, 04/22/2022 - 12:00pm

Part of the Spring 2022 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Toygar Sinan Baykan, Assistant Professor of Politics at Kirklareli University


We now have a solid idea of how populists and their supporters see and depict themselves, political and social settings surrounding them and their enemies. There are deep-rooted socio-cultural divides in Turkey that gave rise to the brand of populism that Erdoğan and the AKP elite skillfully deployed. When populism seen as an appeal/style that is deeply related to the socio-cultural divides in a given society it becomes easier to understand the broader dynamics underlying Turkey’s political conflicts in recent decades. When we analyze voter profiles as well as a few critical events during the AKP years, we see the profound impact of populist appeals and mobilization on political outcomes in Turkey. This illustrates the relevance of a very salient high–low divide in Turkish politics and consolidates the argument that it is neither the left–right nor the secular–religious divide but the anti-populism–populism divide that provides the best lens through which to understand the appeal of Erdoğan’s AKP among the underprivileged majority of Turkey. But we still have a very poor grasp of how the enemies of populism discursively and performatively constitute and locate themselves in public life and political arena in contradistinction to what is deemed “low-brow”, “popular”, “tasteless”, “improper” and “populist”. What are the discursive and stylistic characteristics of anti-populism in Turkey at the elite and mass level? Can we define a distinctly anti-populist discourse and style in Turkey or should we talk about various different forms of anti-populism? By focusing on the construction and historical evolution of anti-populist discourses in Turkey, this presentation aims to contribute to a better understanding of the sources of resentment and social pain embedded in populist politics and discourses of our age.


Toygar Sinan Baykan is an assistant professor of politics at Kirklareli University, Turkey. He attended the Middle East Technical University and Universiteit Leiden for his postgraduate studies and has a master's degree in comparative politics from the LSE. He received his PhD in politics from the University of Sussex. He is the author of The Justice and Development Party in Turkey: Populism, Personalism, Organization (2018) and a contributor to the volume Populism in Global Perspective: a Performative and Discursive Approach (2021). His reviews and articles appeared in Party Politics, Turkish Politics, Mediterranean Politics, New Diversities and Third World Quarterly. His research interests include party politics, comparative politics, and populism.

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