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Session Overview
SP01: The Structural Transformation of Europe's Public Sphere in the Age of Extremes
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Roy Panagiotopoulou, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Session Chair: Romina Surugiu, University of Bucharest, Faculty of Journalism and Communication Studies
Location: PD.2.34
PANTEION University of Social & Political Sciences 136 Syggrou Avenue 17671 Athens, Greece Building: D, Level: 2.
Semi-Plenary 01 with Ruth Wodak and Nicolas Demertzis.

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“Protecting Fortress Europe”: Identity Politics, Right-Wing Populism, and the Negotiation of “Borders” and “Benchmarks” in National and EU Arenas

Ruth Wodak

Lancaster, Austria

Major tensions are governing the debates about refugees on the European stage and in the 28 EU nation states, focused on questions such as ‘How many refugees can a nation state cope with?’; ‘Which kind of refugees/who should be allowed in?’; ‘How will we integrate them?’ and ‘How to protect Europe/Schengen from illegal migrants/terrorists, etc.?’ Europe’s “peace-keeping mission” has been back-grounded, refugees have been transformed into commodities, moved from one place to the other. Other discourses, however, foreground the various European and UN treaties, signed by all EU member states, and draw historical analogies between crises of the past (Second World War, 1956, 1968, 1981, 1989, 2001) and the present. Various scape-goats have emerged in these debates: the EU institutions, Greece and Italy, young male (Muslim) refugees, the so-called ‘good people’ (Gutmenschen) who are too naïve, etc. Nationalistic and nativist border- and body politics have become part and parcel not only of the radical right rhetoric but of the political mainstream, advocating a “politics of fear”. These debates imply struggles about how to justify/legitimize the various measures needed to protect Europe from refugees. In my lecture, I trace the genealogy of these debates both on the European as well as national (mainly Austrian) stage while analyzing a corpus of TV interviews, newspaper and news agency reports as well as interviews with leading protagonists in systematic qualitative and quantitative ways.


Ruth Wodak is Emerita Distinguished Professor of Discourse Studies at Lancaster University, UK, and affiliated to the University of Vienna. Besides various other prizes, she was awarded the Wittgenstein Prize for Elite Researchers in 1996 and an Honorary Doctorate from University of Örebro in Sweden in 2010. In 2011, she was awarded the Grand Decoration of Honour in Silver for Services to the Republic of Austria. She is member of the British Academy of Social Sciences and member of the Academia Europaea. 2008, she was awarded the Kerstin Hesselgren Chair of the Swedish Parliament (at University Örebro). She is co-editor of the journals Discourse and Society, Critical Discourse Studies, and Language and Politics. She has held visiting professorships in the University of Uppsala, Stanford University, University of Minnesota, University of East Anglia, EUI, Florence, and Georgetown University. In 2017, Ruth holds the Willy Brandt Chair at Malmö University.

Ruth has published 10 monographs, 27 co-authored monographs, over 60 edited volumes and ca. 400 peer reviewed journal papers and book chapters. Recent book publications include The Politics of Fear. What Right-wing Populist Discourses Mean (Sage, 2015; translation into German: Politik mit der Angst. Zur Wirkung rechtspopulistischer Diskurse. Konturen, 2016); The discourse of politics in action: ‘Politics as Usual’ (Palgrave), revised edition (2011); Migration, Identity and Belonging (with G. Delanty, P. Jones, 2011); The SAGE Handbook of Sociolinguistics (with Barbara Johnstone and Paul Kerswill, 2010); Analyzing Fascist Discourse. Fascism in Talk and Text (with John Richardson, 2013), and Rightwing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse (with Majid Khosravinik and Brigitte Mral, 2013). See for more information.

The Multifaceted European Public Sphere(s): Socio-Cultural Dynamics

Nicolas Demertzis

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece

Three overriding focal points deserve special attention: (a) the structural re-transformation, and (b) the unfettered emotionality of the public sphere in European societies, which center stage (c) the prospects of democracy for the decades to come. These points assume radical ambivalence as to the structuration of publicity and politics in postmodern information society. It is not that ICT just boost or vitalize democracy through participatory media, citizen journalism, social media, peer-to-peer technology, etc. It can also burst democracy to the extent that surveillance directed by governments and companies, the dark internet, and the narcissistic bias of the social media may refeudalize civil sphere and dissolve the very idea of the public interest. Although the emotions-politics nexus has been ever present, the more the information society assumes the form of the society of the spectacle the more the emotive expressions in public unleash unregulated. The emancipatory dimension of this dynamics is coupled by regressive affective reactions debilitating rather than empowering individualization processes. The “emotional public sphere” is formed by all media content; gone are the days where the media were telling us what to think about; through their emotional agendas they tell us what to feel about as well.

These ambivalences stem from four major factors: i) the intense commercialization of the cyberspace; ii) the neo-liberal pattern of homo debitor; iii) the cyber war against terrorism, and iv) the incremental informalization of manners and emotions. Thus a crucial question is likely to be re-posited in the neoliberal milieu: can the public sphere be effectively reconstituted under radically different socioeconomic, political and cultural conditions? Is democracy possible?


Nicolas Demertzis is Professor at the Department of Communication and Media Studies, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He has published extensively in Greek and English journals and collective volumes. His academic and research interests include political sociology, political communication, and the sociology of emotions. Between 2004 and 2010 he has been Dean at the Technical University of Cyprus, where he established the Department of Communication and Internet Studies, and the 2010-2013 period he was the President of the Greek State Scholarships Foundation (IKY). Currently, he is the Director and President of the Administrators Board of the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE).

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