1st Edition

Ontological Insecurities and the Politics of Contemporary Populism

Edited By Brent J. Steele, Alexandra Homolar Copyright 2023

    This book explores contemporary populist politics through the lens of ontological security theory. It shows that the 'divisionary politics of populism' is fostered by narratives of crisis and insecurity surrounding the imagined Self that gives shape to 'the people' that populism claims to represent.

    The loss of faith in mainstream political parties and moderate electoral candidates seems characteristic of the Zeitgeist in much of the Western world and beyond. Politicians and agendas propped up by a discourse that antagonizes established political elites on behalf of a reified, and homogenized people has become a trend in the politics of several countries. This book has brought together a team of worldwide renowned specialists on ontological security to grapple with the contemporary populist challenge through the conceptual lens of ontological security theory. From crises of democracy in the West, to backlashes against democratization in the Global South, this collection not only unveils fundamental structures underpinning these significant and current phenomena. It also provides us with the analytical tools to understand other occurrences of populist politics that are gaining traction across the globe.

    This book will be of great interest to upper-level students, researchers, and academics in Politics, International Relations and Security. The chapters in this book were originally published as a special issue of Cambridge Review of International Affairs.

    Introduction: Ontological insecurities and the politics of contemporary populism

    Brent J. Steele and Alexandra Homolar

    1. Brexit populism and fantasies of fulfilment

    Christopher S. Browning

    2. Political memory after state death: the abandoned Yugoslav national pavilion at Auschwitz

    Jelena Subotic

    3. Turkey’s ambivalent self: ontological insecurity in ‘Kemalism’ versus ‘Erdoğanism’

    Zeynep Gülsah Çapan and Ayşe Zarakol

    4. Populism, ontological insecurity and Hindutva: Modi and the masculinization of Indian politics

    Catarina Kinnvall

    5. Japanese revisionists and the ‘Korea threat’: insights from ontological security

    Shogo Suzuki

    6. Welcome home! Routines, ontological insecurity and the politics of US military reunion videos

    Brent J. Steele

    7. The power of Trump-speak: populist crisis narratives and ontological security

    Alexandra Homolar and Ronny Scholz

    8. The normative threat of subtle subversion: the return of ‘Eastern Europe’ as an ontological insecurity trope

    Maria Mälksoo


    Brent J. Steele is the Francis D. Wormuth Presidential Chair and Professor of Political Science at the University of Utah, and the co-editor in chief of Global Studies Quarterly. He is the author of Restraint in International Politics, which co-won the ISA Theory section book award for 2020, and the co-author of Vicarious Identity in International.

    Alexandra Homolar is Reader of International Security at the University of Warwick. She has published widely on issues at the intersection of language, security, and politics, including in Security Dialogue, European Journal of International Relations, and Review of International Studies. She is the author of The Uncertainty Doctrine: Narrative Politics and US Hard Power after the Cold War.