Judith Jansma | From Submission to Soumission: Populist Perspectives on Culture

Judith Jansma | From Submission to Soumission: Populist Perspectives on Culture | University of Groningen, Faculty of Art, Graduate School for the Humanities (GSH) | Prof. dr. P. Valdivia Martín, Prof. dr. L.P. Rensmann, Dr. A. Godioli | September 1st 2017 – August 30th 2021 | j.f.jansma@rug.nl


The PhD Ceremony will take place on Thursday 9 December 2021 at 12:45, and can be followed via this link.


In today’s political discourse the idea of a culturally-grounded national identity has made a strong come-back. One can think of Theresa May’s (in)famous  statement that “citizens of the world are actually citizens of nowhere”, or Dutch Christian-democratic party CDA insisting on the integration of the national hymn in the primary school curriculum. Yet this adherence to national identity as a way to deal with complex societal challenges (globalization, multiculturalism) is performed to a much greater extent by populist parties associated with the far right. Their understanding of citizenship being based on the notion of “ethnos” rather than “demos” – leading to a strong “us vs. them” narrative – it should not come as a surprise that culture is an important tool to unite “us” and to exclude “them”.

Therefore, my research project looks at ways in which populist discourse engages with culture. Two research questions are central:

  1. Mapping the use of cultural references in the Netherlands and France: what images, cultural institutions and products do populists identify with or promote?
  2. From Theo van Gogh to Houellebecq: How did populist actors contribute to the public debate surrounding controversial works and authors?

My earlier case study on Soumission  has demonstrated that the novel was interpreted by the Front National as a warning sign for the near future, holding both the elites and the “others” accountable for France’s (fictional) Islamization. However, it is clear that this reading uses the populist tools of simplification and polarization, thereby neglecting the novel’s literary complexity.