Event — IIAS Lunch Lecture

Populist careers as autonomy-making: a longitudinal ethnography of political entry in North India

Lunch Lecture by Jean-Thomas Martelli, Research Fellow at IIAS.

This lecture is held in the IIAS conference room from 12:00 - 13:00 Amsterdam Time (CET).

The Lecture

In his presentation, Jean-Thomas Martelli proposes to explore populism diachronically as a political career. It builds on a 7-year ethnography of Indian student activism and political entry.

Accomplished populists are often researched from distant quarters, long after their populist turn. Yet, populism—the attempt to represent the people through being the people—is not an overnight decision; it results from a gradual self-fashioning welded to the political trajectory of its bearer. 

Contrary to ideationalists, Martelli's ethnographic study of an Indian youth leader ‘entering populism’ reconsiders the phenomenon as an a-ideological attempt to become politically autonomous.

By combining qualitative longitudinal interviews, participant observation in North India and discourse analysis, the article aims to contribute to three adjoining fields of inquiry:
(a) the sociology of political professionalisation,
(b) the political theory of populism, and
(c) the anthropology of political becoming and subject formation. 

First, Martelli shows how the embrace of populism is motivated by aspirations to gain leverage vis-à-vis political parties and group-based affiliations driving co-ethnic voting. Contrary to ideationalists, the case study reconsiders populism as an a-ideological attempt to become politically autonomous.

Second, he argues that the claim of representative sameness at the core of any successful populist is inseparable from the one of hierarchical distinctiveness embodied in the authoritative figure of the neta (leader).

Third, he suggests that entering politics as a populist is not only about ad-hoc learning but also about strategic unlearning.

The Speaker

As a mixed methods ethnographer in political science and sociology, Jean-Thomas Martelli focuses on educated youth, representation and the politics of becoming in contemporary India. At IIAS, his interdisciplinary project explores the effects of political language on democracy when it transitions to authoritarianism.

Registration (required)

A lunch box will be provided to registered attendees. Please use the registration form on this page.