BASEES Annual Conference 2022

Resisting Leftist Dictatorship? Memory Politics and Collective Action Framing in the Populist Far-right PEGIDA Movement

Fri8  Apr05:00pm(20 mins)
CWB Plenary
Mrs Sabine Volk


Sabine Volk


Taking account of rising populist far-right politics in Europe, this article investigates political culture, focusing on memory politics. Based on a case study of the eastern German street movement ‘PEGIDA’, it offers novel empirical insights into uses of memory in public protest. To this aim, it draws from original ethnographic data generated in PEGIDA’s protest events in Dresden, which it analyzes through the lens of qualitative-interpretive frame and discourse analysis. The article shows that PEGIDA uses memory to construct the master frame of ‘democratic resistance against totalitarianism’, based on the populist antagonism between ‘the resistant people’ as an in-group and ‘the leftist-totalitarian elites’ as an out-group. In addition, this article makes two important theoretical contributions. Drawing from scholarship on memory politics and the movement-memory nexus, it develops an actor-centered, strategic, and instrumental approach to memory politics as ‘political uses of memory’ in the context of social movements and protest politics. Taking a semiotic approach to (political) culture, it defines memory as a key cultural tool for social movements, specifically in the context of scarce resources. Second, this study contributes to the scholarship on populism and the far right by spelling out the notion of populism as a constructed collective action frame, refining the concept and demonstrating how both notions are key to understanding ideology in action.