The Return of Right-Wing Populism and the Framing of the Migrant and Refugee

March 02, 2017

Michelle Bonner, Dionne Bunsha, Greg Feldman, & Samir Gandesha

Thursday, March 2, 5:30PM–7:30PM, Room 1415, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities, School for International Studies, Latin American Studies, & Vancity Office of Community Engagement.

Right-wing populism has been gaining strength around the world since the 1990s. From the European Union, Argentina and India to Russia, South Africa and the Philippines to the United States, what many people thought of as basic customs of government and civil discourse in putatively liberal representative democracies have ceded ground to the direct interventionism of leaders—invoking the name of the “people”—
who are impatient with constitutional checks and balances on executive authority. Two basic features of this frustration with democracy routinely stand out: First, right-wing populism is often justified a necessary measure to “liberate” a “people” that has been suffering at the hands of globalization and an aloof, elected “aristocracy” from above. Second, right-wing populism articulates a politics that will protect the vitality of “the people” from the threat represented, from below, by the migrant and the refugee.

This panel will feature comments from four speakers on the conditions that make right-wing populism possible in order to open up a public discussion on global politics and the politicization of migrants and refugees. 


Michelle Bonner is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She works on issues of democratization and human rights, with a regional interest in Latin America. Her current SSHRC-funded project examines the role of mass media in punitive populism (the use of tough on crime crime rhetoric and policies to win elections). Thus far, she has published two articles from this research. Her previous books include Policing Protest in Argentina and Chile (Lynne Rienner, 2014) and Sustaining Human Rights: Women and Argentine Human Rights Organizations (Penn State, 2007).  Policing Protest in Argentina and Chile was awarded the Canadian Political Science Association’s 2016 Comparative Politics Book Prize. Her articles have been published in academic journals including Policing and Society, International Journal of Transitional Justice, International Journal of Press/Politics, and Journal of Latin American Studies, among others.

Dionne Bunsha is an award-winning author and journalist. She is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book, Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat (Penguin India, 2006), about the aftermath of the communal violence in Gujarat. As a Senior Assistant Editor for Frontline magazine in Mumbai, India, she travelled extensively to report on human rights, social justice and environmental issues. She has won several awards for her engaging, intrepid and fearless journalism. Dionne writes for The Guardian, The Hindu newspaper and the New Internationalist magazine. Dionne was a Knight International Journalism Fellow at Stanford University in 2008-09. She is a researcher on issues related to environment, socio-economic development and politics. She has a Masters in Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada where she studied participatory planning and ecosystem-based management in coastal British Columbia, Canada. Dionne also has an M.Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics where her research focused on the political economy of farmers suicides in Maharashtra, India.

Gregory Feldman (PhD Syracuse) is a political anthropologist interested in migration, refugees, and globalization; political action versus technocratic governance; and critical perspectives on security and neoliberalism. His geographic focus is Europe with emphasis on its relations with countries in the Mediterranean Sea region.  Dr. Feldman is currently conducting the ethnographic project titled "The ‘Gray Zone’: Human Smuggling and Trafficking and Police Investigations in the Mediterranean Space of Control" (funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant). He has an advance contract for a book manuscript based on this project with a major university press. His latest book is titled We are All Migrants: Political Action and the Ubiquitous Condition of Migrant-hood (Stanford University Press 2015). His previous book is titled The Migration Apparatus: Security, Labor, and Policymaking in the European Union (Stanford University Press 2012). His publications appear in American EthnologistComparative Studies in Society and HistoryAnthropological Theory, and Social Anthropology among journals. Dr. Feldman is the founder and President of the Vancouver Society for the Promotion of the Liberal Arts. He co-founded the Interest Group for the Anthropology of Public Policy (now the Association for the Anthropology of Policy). He is also co-founded and is a steering committee member of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists.

Samir Gandesha is an Associate Professor in the Department of the Humanities and the Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University. He specializes in modern European thought and culture, with a particular emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. His work has appeared in Political Theory, New German Critique, Kant Studien, Philosophy and Social Criticism, Topia, the European Legacy, the European Journal of Social Theory, Art Papers, the Cambridge Companion to Adorno and Herbert Marcuse: A Critical Reader, as well as in several other edited books. He is co-editor with Lars Rensmann of Arendt and Adorno: Political and Philosophical Investigations (Stanford, 2012). His book (coedited with Johan Hartle) Reification and Spectacle: On the Timeliness of Western Marxism (Amsterdam University Press) is forthcoming later this year  and Aesthetic Marx (Bloomsbury Press) also co-edited with Johan Hartle will appear in 2017.


Am Johal is Director of SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. He has an MA from the Institute for Social and European Studies from Corvinus University in Hungary and completed a doctoral dissertation with European Graduate School in media philosophy. He published his first book, 'Ecological Metapolitics: Badiou and the Anthropocene' in 2015. He sits on the Vancouver City Planning Commission, the Steering Committee for SFU's Centre for Dialogue and is a board member with the Vancity Community Foundation. He has previously served as an advisor to two provincial cabinet ministers and is the co-founder of UBC's Humanities 101 program.