Project presentation

Europe is usually regarded as the birthplace of a set of values claiming universal validity and serving as the basic political reference for citizens and institutions throughout the world. This universalising claim is characteristic of political ‘isms’, which are often taken as master narratives of ideological doctrines beyond spatial and temporal particularity. However, the age of political ‘isms’ has also been the era of the nation state, which has rendered a special tension between universalistic ideals and their particular applications.

The project aims at bringing forth a renewed understanding of political ideologies in which political ‘isms’ are viewed as rhetorical tools in political struggles, conflicts, and negotiations rather than inherently coherent theories or well defined ideational doctrines, and thus help overcome retrospective universalization in the analysis of ‘isms’. Hence, focus will be put on what sort of political significance talking about ‘isms’ has had in a particular moment. These concepts have for instance been used as terms of abuse or as methods for colonizing a tradition for oneself. Instead of only looking at perceived traditions of particular ‘isms’, we will engage in a comparative study of how ‘isms’ have been used rhetorically in forging these traditions. We will analyse how ‘isms’ have been rendered in different European political and social contexts from the breakthrough of political ‘isms’ from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to modern times. Our primary focal points are the uses of ‘liberalism’, ‘patriotism’, ‘nationalism’ and ‘populism’, but the project in itself will invite scholars to more broadly theorize about processes of ‘ismification’ and consequently discusses other ‘isms’ as well.

The project is hosted by the Centre for Nordic Studies and funded by the Network for European Studies bot at the University of Helsinki.