Ming-Cheng M. Lo, "Countering Populism through Emotive Transformation? Political Performances during Taiwan’s 2021 COVID Outbreak"

Blumer Room - 402 Social Sciences Building

In recent decades, the rising trend of populism threatens to undermine democracy globally. Existing
scholarship has analyzed how macro structural forces and cultural performative factors contribute to
populist rhetoric and mobilizations. However, relatively little research has been devoted to documenting
or theorizing counter-populism. This talk will explore the question: how does counter-populist political
performance gain resonance with the public? I will engage the literatures of populism, political
performance, and hope, and discuss a case study of the 2021 COVID outbreak in Taiwan. Drawing on a
qualitative analysis of 502 newspaper articles, preliminary findings suggest that the Taiwanese
government’s counter-populist efforts succeeded through transforming an emotive context of anger
into one featuring hope – a process I term “emotive transformation.” I will report three key mechanisms
facilitating this process, including the enactment of key elements of hope, timely inclusion of
nonpartisan participants, and strong collective effervescence. Meanwhile, this analysis acknowledges
that counter-populist performances are constrained by the immediacy of theatrical effects. I will
conclude with some reflections about gaps in the literature on populism, including a lack of
understanding of counter-populism as well as the persistence of an “Atlantic bias.”