European Cooperation serving research
March 23rd through 25th, Paris hosted members of the COST Action IS13081, dedicated to the study of populist strategies in Europe. Discussions of the topic were open to the public on Friday the 24th during a conference at the Palais du Luxembourg where different participants (researchers, journalists…) debated. The video is available on YouTube. The two organizers of the conference, Nicolas Hubé, associate professor in political science and head of the master 2 “Political and institutional Communication” at Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, and Gaël Villeneuve, doctor in political science (Université Paris 8), research worker at the Communication and Politics laboratory (CNRS) and teacher at Institut Supérieur de Communication (ISCOM), agreed to give an interview to the Journal International to talk about the event.
Le Journal International: You are both members of the COST Action IS1308 “Populism Political Communication in Europe”, can you explain in a few words what it consists of?
Nicolas Hubé: The COST network is a European network of researchers, financed by a European research program. The goal of the COST Action group is to allow researchers from different countries to meet and discuss a specific topic over the course of four years in order to strengthen future research and to develop future research programs. As for the birth of the COST Action IS1308, I was part of the group that filed the topic to the European Science Foundation. We started three years ago. The research group was named NEPOCS (Network of European Political Communication Scholars5). It was composed of sixteen European researchers, and we thought the uprising of populism was a topic that deserved to be discussed. The group was essentially made up of countries from Western Europe, but there has been a second wave of invitations to other colleagues from different countries, from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and other colleagues like Gaël for example.
“Work together despite different perspectives”
Gaël Villeneuve: In fact, I had the pleasure of being invited by Nicolas, a few months, a bit less than a year after the beginning of the project. At that time I was working on the question of the relationship between the people and the far right in the Media. It nourished our exchanges, and I became his assistant, since there are several people per country. Our first meetings occurred in Greece and Denmark, and in fact I had the pleasure of seeing in action, people from different scientific, intellectual cultures, ask difficult questions and experience the difficulty of answering them together. What I found interesting in following that project was, on the one hand, seeing that in this environment, questions about populism weren’t brought up, because they are very hard to bring up, especially in a group of 25 or 30 people. Populism is a black box and is very hard to open, but behind that, we managed to find some kind of coordination, exchanges, discussions, which make it possible to work together despite different perspectives.
“Pushed up to internationalize and to create European programs”
Le Journal International: Why have you decided to meet up with several European researchers?
Nicolas Hubé: That’s a structural constraint coming from the university. We are pushed to internationalize and to create European programs. Because that is where the money is. That’s how research works now, with ad hoc financing by European projects. It’s more of a constraint than anything.
Gaël Villeneuve: Nicolas and I have something in common, we both partly worked on our theses abroad. I did part of mine at the University College London, on English TV, and he worked at the Freie Universität Berlin and the Europa Universität Viadrina. In fact, we were already interested in what happens outside of France.
Le Journal International: What is the goal of your project?
Nicolas Hubé: The goal really is to be able to create networks that will obtain much more European financing that will permit bigger surveys. So we divided into three different work groups. One studies how elites react to populism, basically how elected representatives, journalists work with populism. Then we have a second group studying the Media, how journalists deal with populism. And the third group studies the effects. With those three groups we have been able to make small surveys.
“Trying to report the knowledge country by country”
For example with the ‘elite’ group, we are thinking about how to conduct interviews with the elites to know what that word stands for. What is this concept? Is it something we can use? Can we claim to be a populist? Is it an insult? Is it positive? We are working with the media of different countries, to see how they deal with the people, with immigration. How it is framed.
There is also a survey on citizens in different European countries, how they think, see campaign strategies, how they perceive Marine Le Pen, etc. So this is the goal of the project. Before that, what took us the first year and a half was a book, trying to report the knowledge country by country. It was released at the end of 2016.
Gaël Villeneuve: What’s interesting is that, as it is a European project, financed on a European scale, it is obviously seized by the ‘new public management’ spirit. That is to say bigger, larger, stronger… And it creates huge issues for the scientific spirit: how do you make relationships between 25 or 30 different elements, cultures, situations, and work with methods of different researchers… Hence, this huge difficulty produces funny effects… In my work group for example, the one on journalists, every country collects a certain amount of data, in newspapers, websites, during specific periods of time.
“A non-reflexive methodology”
Therefore, a big comparison is to be made. The comparison itself, considering its size, will probably have a hard time having a revolutionary effect, because it is very large. Because of its efficiency, it is a non-reflexive methodology, epistemology. But at the same time, all of this produces a very interesting, positive dynamic. We already have people who will be working on the French data, so we know people in other countries, people with whom we can discuss those issues, and from which we can end up with projects born in this dynamic.
Nicolas Hubé: Also in terms of goals, what I forgot to mention, is that there is something else that is imposed on us, but that is rather positive: to make the results public, hence the event at the Senate [Palais du Luxembourg]. Which was a little bit of a constraint or something the European Science Foundation was waiting on, and which was to say: we also need to meet, not the general public because we know it is not possible, rather than the journalists, interest groups, think tanks… And that is something that is expected, which is why we organized the event on Friday.
Le Journal International: Who came to the conference at the Senate, besides researchers?
Nicolas Hubé: Firstly, students, which is good because in general when we organize conferences, there are researchers and that’s it. We’re always happy when students come. The room could fit 115 persons and 100 seats were taken. We also had a few journalists, who came to talk to us, a few observers… That felt huge. And the fact that the Senate was happy to have us, and rebroadcast the results of the conference shows that the interest goes further than just research.
“Local journalists as subcontractors”
Le Journal International: When you organize conferences in other countries, does it happen the same way, do you always organize a conference open to the public?
Nicolas Hubé: Until now, it was more the other way around, that is to say specialists coming to speak to COST Action. For example in Greece, journalists came to talk about the way they perceived the cover of the Greek crisis in other countries. In particular how correspondents from other countries went there. So it was the first time we have had an event open to the per say.
Gaël Villeneuve: The Greek journalists described to us the feeling of watching a swarm of locusts arriving from all over Europe on tiny Greece during the economic crisis and the country’s bankruptcy. But that as those journalists didn’t know how to work in that country, because they didn’t know it well, and didn’t they speak the language. They were using local journalists as subcontractors. In Krakow, there was also this journalist who was extremely shocked by the end of the audiovisual public service as it was during the communist Era, and see the liberal, brutal, managerial transition of the information occur.
Le Journal International: What were the concerns of this conference in Paris?
“Having a perspective of what we know of populism in different countries”
Nicolas Hubé: The first concern was having an inventory of what is happening in France, for those foreign colleagues who read information on the Front National, Macron… Have them meet agents, foreground researchers able to comprehend all this. The second concern was the other way around, having a perspective of what we know of populism in different countries for a French public. We also were supposed to have a round table with politicians, but bad timing, elections are coming…
Gaël Villeneuve: The timing also really interested our foreign colleagues when we offered to organize the conference in Paris a year ago. Precisely because the French elections were coming up, and there has been some kind of emulation, wondering if Marine Le Pen – who is considered by COST as the major populist – would be able to become president? And the populist label works very well, even though it designates often very different political entrepreneurs. It was definitely time to focus on it.
Le Journal International: What should readers remember?
Nicolas Hubé: We have made progress in the practical sense of the research aspects, because doing research is also sometimes sitting around a table and discussing, not only exchanging emails.
Gaël Villeneuve: The good news is especially that nothing negative happened, everything went well, no duds. It worked well, we’re happy.
Ex-rédactrice en chef, étudiante en Science politique à La Sorbonne, féministe et fan de Rihanna.