The Chicken and the Egg Dilemma: Populism and Identity Shifts

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Politics and International Studies


This study is an interdisciplinary investigation of populism and identity change within Central and Eastern Europe. Focusing on Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania as its main case studies, it asks: Do populist leaders instigate identity shifts, or are such shifts a legacy from a previous era? This central question is then broken down into four associated sub questions: To what extent are these populist narratives rooted in Communist history? Are these identities set to be a permanent feature of European discourse? Is populist rhetoric being translated into substantive policy change? And if so, how will the EU adapt/cope with this shift?

This study builds on the conventional understanding of how populism and identities interact, and compliments this with sociological and psychological explanations of identity formation. The process of othering (Neumann, 1999) deploys a preordained checklist of characteristics which its members must possess, and accepts participants based on a discrete concurrence with the requirements. This conception of identity formation is relevant to this research as if populist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe come to regard European as a distinct identity to that of their nation, their rhetoric may quickly descend into an anti-European tone. This is combined with the premise that identity does not evolve in vacuum and that it is the product of environment, context and situation (Abdelal et al., 2006). This theory suggests that behaviour, actions or opinions are initially witnessed, and then mimicked (Hammack, 2008). Centralising the notion of observation, this theory addresses socialised, almost compulsive acts of self; allowing space for the evaluation of cultural norms. This provides a foundational basis for analysis of legacy, experience and memory; explored through the lens of nostalgia. This explores the prospect that interference from the Russian sphere, either directly or through the mechanism of memory, will increase anti-EU sentiment, and in so doing have broader ramifications for the EU. Confirmation of this theory of identity formation would disprove the hypothesis that populists instigate identity shifts, indicating instead that they are a legacy from a previous era.

The investigation incorporates qualitive analysis (textual and discourse analysis), quantitative analysis (poll data), and field research. The textual analysis, comprises of focused analysis of speeches, national media and other vehicles of communication. This is intended to identify processes of othering, which stem from populist leadership. Discourse analysis of newspapers, political speeches and historical texts, will supplement this, providing an unfiltered indication of how identity is viewed and communicated. Quantitative analysis provides an overview of public attitude both over time and across nations. Two poll sources, European Social Survey and Eurobarometer, are used to mitigate against bias in publication, thereby enhancing the reliability of the data. The field work component comprises of an ethnographic study and frame analysis. Through this, I intend to set up small focus groups, which citizens are encouraged to attend with the company of their peers, and promote a dialogue. A loose structure, which will guide the discussion, will be prepared; however, it is intentional that the atmosphere be informal.


Abdelal et al., Rawi. 'Identity as a Variable' Cambridge University Press: Perspectives on Politics,4:4 (2006)

Exploring Public Attitudes, Informing Public Policy, European Social Survey (2008)

Hammack, Phillip L. 'Narrative and the Cultural Psychology of Identity' Personality and Social Psychology Review,12:3 (2008)

Neumann, Iver. The Uses of Other: "The East" In European Identity Formation (University of Minnesota Press,1999)


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2570494 Studentship ES/P000711/1 30/09/2021 29/09/2025 Holly Rodgers