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CALL FOR CONFERENCE PAPERS – Character Assassination, Illiberalism, and the Erosion of Civic Rights

Location: University of Amsterdam & VU University:
21-23 June 2023

IlliberalismLiberal democracies face multiple external challenges from autocracies across the world, as well as internal challenges from populist politicians, nativism, and the normalization of incivility in media and political discourses. Character assassination (CA) often accompanies these political and social conflicts, especially when unresolved ideological and moral issues are involved. Social conflicts become aggravated when moral issues intermix with political and economic factors. Factions then resort to persuasive attacks on character to delegitimize and disempower their opponents. This increased polarization and aggressiveness of elite rhetoric likely foster voters’ cynicism and discontent with politics as usual. The increasing gap between liberal elites and the disgruntled electorate, in turn, likely provides even more fertile ground for intra-elite conflict and paves the way for illiberal conceptions of the democratic order.

This conference seeks to explore current-day illiberal tendencies as well as historical societies where emerging strong men and dictators manipulated the political system and undermined the rights of the people. In particular, it focuses on practices of character assassination in these highly unstable and polarized environments. We invite scholars to submit research and works in progress which will discuss the drivers of illiberalism and the erosion of civic rights in ages of conflicting ideologies from a variety of disciplinary and cultural angles. We welcome both theoretical work and case studies. Authors of selected best papers will be invited to submit their work to the Journal of Illiberalism Studies.

Suggested Topics:

NOTE: It is important to make clear to the American reader that the name "liberal" has been transformed in the United States into a concept that adopts socialist ideas, drifting more and more towards Leninism and other similar tendencies that are disguising themselves in recent times with the "progressive" mask. That is the kind of "liberalism" they are trying to counter with this "Illiberalism" movement. On the contrary, in Europe, a "liberal" is an outspoken opponent of socialism. European liberals harbor a series of doctrines related to the philosophy that seeks to enhance the ability of an individual to enjoy their individual freedom as a fundamental part of a State, as well as the limitation of its power over civil life, thus improving economic relations, their protection and promoting equality before the law. It is a movement that promotes and allows the division of powers; it is the rule of law that preaches tolerance and defends the diversity of beliefs and religious freedom.

• The erosion of civic rights in historical societies;
• Character assassination as an illiberal practice;
• Negative campaigns and their effects on behaviors and attitudes;
• Political incivility over time and space;
• The psychological and emotional underpinnings of persuasive attacks on character;
• Populist rhetoric, impression management, and democratic elections;
• Political incivility and polarization;
• The spread of culture wars in the U.S., the E.U., and beyond;
• Illiberal technologies and societal transformations;
• The effects of cancel culture on civil discourse;
• Far-right and far-left social movements;
• Digital activism and the practices of disruption and subversion;
• Neo-authoritarian forms of coercion and dominance in the Internet Age;
• Mediated public scandals in liberal democracies;
• Personalization and infotainment issues;
• Legal aspects of libel, slander, and defamation;
• Reputation management, image repair, and inoculation strategies.

Please submit a 250-word abstract of your paper by 15 February, 2023. A limited number of slots for online presentations will be made available. If you would like to opt for one of these, please include a brief motivation explaining your reasons. Email the abstract as an attachment to Martijn Icks This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Sergei Samoilenko at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Hosts: Martijn Icks, Faculty of Humanities at University of Amsterdam; Alessandro Nai, Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) at University of Amsterdam; Edwina Hagen, Faculty of Humanities at VU University
Co-Sponsors: Lab for Character Assassination and Reputation Politics (CARP); Illiberalism Studies Program (The George Washington University)
Location: University of Amsterdam & VU University, 21-23 June 2023

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