The 1st Lisbon Winter School for the Study of Communication will take a comparative and global approach to the study of media and populism across time.

Jointly organized by the Faculty of Human Sciences (Catholic University of Portugal), the Annenberg School for Communication (University of Pennsylvania), the Faculty of Communcation Sciences (University of Tampere), and the School of Journalism and Communication (Chinese University of Hong Kong), it aims to uncover what is familiar and distinctive about manifestations of populism around the globe.

Populism is on the rise in different countries in the West and East, emerging anew in some countries, piggybacking on existent power structures in others, increasing its representation in still others and unpredictably becoming a mainstream style of political communication in yet others. Even though populist movements have different characteristics, which vary according to the context in which they emerge, all share a style of mediated communication. Driven by a simplistic, black-and-white and polarizing discourse in which often a charismatic leader is presented as an embodiment of the people’s will against elites and established political and social institutions, populist discourse depends on the media to disseminate its sentiments, presenting its leaders as “of the people” and, simultaneously, the only ones capable of resolving existing problems and redeeming the nation (e.g. Müller 2016).

Marked by a specific style of communication between the leaders and the people that uses the media to create a shared community, populism is not only about the “emotional bond between populist players and significant segments of the population” (Block & Negrine, 2017: 183). Grass roots movements are used to cultivate anti-establishment sentiments and create a sense of proximity between populist leaders and their 2 supporters. The media, however, are key because they connect and reconnect individuals to the patriotic, aggressive and emotional speeches used by populist actors.

In different historical periods the media have been used to disseminate hate speech against specific groups – the “others” – who are seen as the source of “our” problems. Written, visual, audio and audiovisual media have been instrumental in providing visibility to the “us versus them” discourse central to populist formations. The mechanisms for disseminating enmity have varied across time, though each is used to legitimize the need to protect the nation against those who are different. However, while classic populism was marked by the media’s manipulation, contemporary neopopulism is “suffused with populist media” that exist in a cultural environment “to which all politicians need to pay homage” (Waisbord 2003: 215). Scholars following this line of thought have associated the emergence of neo-populism with media rituals and practices that they believe allow populist discourses to become prevalent (Mazzoleni, 2003; Kramer, 2014). It is thus possible to argue that neo-populism is partially a product of how the media represent reality and that the media have transformed the coverage of politics into entertainment, focusing mostly on conflict and controversy, and giving more visibility to emotional discourses than to those discussing rational ideas.

Even though populist movements use the media to gain the attention of the public, their rise to power inevitably places journalists and other media practitioners in a vulnerable position. Just as authoritarian regimes consider journalism to be a simple extension of political power, populist governments tend to make the same assumption. They label the media as enemies of the people and journalists as “dishonest people”, thus challenging the liberal tradition of democracy that is grounded on freedom of speech and on the public scrutiny of those in office.

Drawing from this context, in which both right and left-wing populist movements make savvy use of the media while attacking its existence and practices, the 1st Lisbon Winter School for the Study of Communication aims to discuss the role of the media in populist formations. How populists and media practitioners interact, how populism is represented in the media and how it uses media to connect with supporters 3 and marginalize individuals voicing political discontent in different countries and across different time periods needs closer attention. The threat posed to freedom of information by populist movements is central here, but it is part of a larger information ecosystem that raises critical questions about the capacity of the media writ large – journalism, documentary, entertainment – to wrestle with issues and problems that trouble the core of populist appeal.

The Winter School invites proposals by doctoral students and post-docs that address, though may not be not be strictly limited to, the topics below:

  • Interactions between populists and the media
  • Populist strategies of media intimidation
  • Representation of populist movements and actors in the media
  • Digital media and populist grass roots movements
  • Populist rhetoric and discourse
  • Media practice and populism
  • International circulation of populist ideals
  • Hate speech and stereotypes
  • Social media and populism
  • Alternative facts
  • Fake news
  • Information under threat
  • Satire and populism
  • Impact of populism on citizenry
Paper proposals

Proposals should be sent to no later than July 15, 2018 and include paper title, abstract in English (300 words), name, e-mail address, institutional affiliation and a brief bio (max. 100 words) mentioning ongoing research.

Applicants will be informed of the result of their submissions by September 1, 2018.

Full paper submission

Presenters are required to send in full papers by November 30, 2018.


  • Barbie Zelizer, Annenberg School for Communication
  • Francis Lee, Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Cardiff University
  • Nelson Ribeiro, Catholic University of Portugal
  • Risto Kunelius, University of Tampere
  • Rolien Hoyng,  Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Silvio Waisbord, George Washington University