NOS-HS - The Power of Narratives

About the project

The project The Power of Narratives: Democracy and Media in Political Turmoil is led by Höfði Reykjavík Peace Centre and funded by the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS).

The primary objective of the project is to create a multidisciplinary network of Nordic academics focusing on the discourse on immigration issues and national identity in the Nordic countries and the impact of political narratives in a rapidly changing media environment. By pooling expertise from the different Nordic countries, the project will initiate and promote new critical research on the role of political narratives, and how the portrayal in the mainstream media has affected the far right parties’ capacity to further their agenda and make electoral advances.

Höfði Reykjavík Peace Centre coordinates the project in cooperation with two other universities, Linköping University and the University of Helsinki.

Pia Hansson, Director of Höfði Reykjavik Peace Centre, Auður Örlygsdóttir, Project Manager at Höfði Reykjavík Peace Centre, Guðmundur Hálfdanarson, Professor of History and Dean of the School of Humanities, Jón Ólafsson, Professor in Comparative Cultural Studies, and Kristín Loftsdóttir, Professor in Anthropology at the University of Iceland coordinate the project on behalf of Höfði Reykjavík Peace Centre and the University of Iceland, in cooperation professors from the partner universities, Suvi Keskinen, Porfessor at the University of Helsinki and Catrin Lundström, Associate Professor at Linköping University.

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Guðmundur Hálfdanarson is the PI of this NOS-HS project, professor of history and Dean of the School of Humanities at the University of Iceland. He holds a Ph.D. degree in history from Cornell University, and has taught at the University of Iceland since 1990. His main fields of research are European social and political history, with special emphasis on the history of nationalism. In 2005– 2010, he co-coordinated the research network of excellence, CLIOHRES.net, which was funded by the 6th Framework Programme.

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Suvi Keskinen is Academy Research Fellow Professor of Ethnic Relations and Nationalism at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include post/decolonial feminism, critical race and whiteness studies, politics of belonging, nationalism, welfare state, political activism and gendered violence. She currently works as Academy Research Fellow, conducting the research project Postethnic Activism in the Neoliberal Era: Translocal Studies on Political Subjectivities, Alliance-Building and Social Imaginaries, funded by the Academy of Finland (2014-2019). She also lead the research projects The Stopped - Spaces, Meanings and Practices of Ethnic Profiling, funded by the Kone foundation (2015-2018) and Intersectional Border Struggles and Disobedient Knowledge in Activism (2018-2022), funded by the Academy of Finland.

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Catrin Lundström is Research Fellow at Linköping University where she focuses on inequality and privilege from intersectional perspectives. Of particular interest is how race and whiteness is negotiated within different contexts and how ideas of whiteness are linked to the idea of being Swedish.

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Kristín Loftsdóttir is Professor in Anthropology at the University of Iceland. Kristín's research focuses on racism, mobilities, whiteness, gender and ideas of 'Europe'. She has conducted research in Iceland, Niger and Belgium. Her current project is 'Mobilities and Transnational Iceland'.

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Jon Olafsson is Professor in the department of Comparative and Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland. His research is focused on democracy, political participation, dissent, reconciliation, and social criticism.

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Since defending his PhD dissertation The True Colors of Finnish Welfare Nationalism in October 2015, Niko Pyrhönen has worked as senior researcher in the Finnish Institute of Migration and postdoctoral researcher at the Swedish School of Social Science. His current research project, funded by Helsingin Sanomat foundation, deals with right-wing populist hybrid media mobilization practices and narratives in the 'alt-right' news outlets in the United States, France and the Nordic countries.

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The next meeting of the consortium, workshop and open seminar will be held in Helsinki on December 4 2018. This time the focus is on the rise of authoritarian nationalism and post-truth politics.

Welfare States, Rise of Authoritarian Nationalism and Post-Truth Politics

The Inviolable Truths of Race: How the Populist Right Set the Terms of the Debate on Immigration, and Why We Let Them Do It
Dr. Ben Pitcher, Senior Lecturer in History, Sociology and Criminology at the University of Westminster, UK

Disinformation, “konspiratsia” and fake news: The epistemic structure
Jón Ólafsson, Professor in Philosophy and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland

Chair: Suvi Keskinen, Academy Research Fellow, Professor, Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism (CEREN), University of Helsinki.

Moderator: Post doctoral researcher Niko Pyrhönen, CEREN, University of Helsinki.

Democratic politics in the Western world have come under the spell of right wing populism and its divisive rhetoric. From Brazil to Russia – across the US and Great Britain movements have risen with leaders claiming fight for the common people against indifferent, self-serving and corrupt elites, with racism and xenophobia playing an important part in populist debates.

This workshop focuses on the way in which populist racisms are changing the terms of political debate, establishing a common political grammar that is shared by a range of politicians, journalists and commentators across a wide political spectrum. It considers the challenges faced by an anti-racist politics when it is framed by the far-right as a cause of political elites. It uses populist racism as a heuristic to consider some deep-rooted myths of national identity, cultural entitlement, and the racial politics of the welfare state.

The discussion will consider technological changes that put a strain on media discussion by the infiltration of fake news and disinformation, adding to the challenges of finding a common ground for discussion. Particular attention will be given to the concept of “fake news” which is used both to describe a growing social media industry associated with racist and xenophobic types of populism and by right wing nationalists to characterize the mainstream media. The concept will be explored from an epistemic as well as a historical perspective. Is there a substantive difference between today’s structure of disinformation and methods employed in the past for agitation and propaganda purposes?

Key questions/topics: What is the effect of the recent changes in the structure of nationalistic narratives and how does it affect public debate? What role does the welfare state play in the discourse on immigration in the Nordic countries and how did it affect the Vote Leave campaign? Is it possible to find a common ground for discussion on the development of modern western societies in light of growing sentiment of anti-establishment and suspicion towards academic and political elites in a changed media environment? Will “truths” and “facts” survive the current post-truth climate of public discourse?

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Kick-off meeting in Norrköping

The project started with a meeting of the consortium in Norrköping on April 25 and an open seminar where the focus was on radical right-wing narratives and their manifestations.

Radical Right-Wing Narratives and Manifestations:
Hate speech, Anti-Immigration Sentiments and Racism in Europe
A REMESO Open Seminar

Racisms without Racism? On Ignorance and Denial
Marta Araújo, University of London, UK, and University of Coimbra, Portugal
The notion of ‘racisms without racism’, proposed by David T. Goldberg, encapsulates the assumption that racism would, if left alone, evaporate from Westernized societies. This stems from an understanding of racism as born out of prejudice and ignorance. Here it is argued that this view has invisibilized the persistence of institutionalized racism and portrayed struggles against racism as the problem.

Marta Araújo’s research integrates studies of Democracy and Human Rights and looks at of Eurocentrism and racism knowledge production, history teaching, and political struggles, as well as in public policy.

An Alternative World: Racism and Migration in the Present
Kristín Loftsdóttir, University of Iceland
Racism should be seen as part of the wider social and cultural context that populist movements operate within. Their claim of “non-racism” gain legitimacy through discourses of race and difference that are generally not recognized as racist but seen as constituting ‘common sense’. This is discussed from three angles: Covert racism; re-stitching of time, and ‘crisis talk’ as key to mobilization of populist movements.

Kristín Loftsdóttir is a professor of Anthropology. She has focused on racism, whiteness, mobility and crisis. Her most recent publication is the co-edited Messy Europe: Crisis, Race and Nation-State in a Postcolonial World (Berghahn, 2018) and Exotic Iceland: Coloniality, Crisis and Europe at the Margins (Routledge, 2018).