ISSR Seminar | David Snow (UC Irvine) | The Coterminous Rise of Right-Wing Populism and Superfluous Populations

David Snow (UC Irvine) headshot
Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm
E20 Machmer Hall | UMass Amherst

This discussion examines the relationship between right-wing populism and the construction of superfluous populations or people.  Zeroing in on the anti-pluralistic dimension of right-wing populism, and thus its footing in identity politics, it is argued that one of the foundational bedrocks for the rise and persistence of right-wing populism is the construction of two strikingly different “superfluous peoples,” one that has been framed as forgotten and superfluous but is now framed as a worthy candidate for populist rescue and resurrection, and another that is framed as superfluous and unworthy, and thus out of place or in a place they don’t deserve.

Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, Mary Douglas, Ephraim Mizruchi, and Lewis Coser, the concept is elaborated and theorized as a necessary, albeit not sufficient, condition for the rise of right-wing populism.  It is also argued that the degree of population superfluity and how “that problem” is dealt with are contingent on several key intervening conditions, namely the existence or development of abeyance systems, and the expansion or contraction of cultural spans of sympathy.  Finally, I consider the alternative ways in which superfluous populations might be dealt with, referencing some historical examples, and then raise the question of whether there is a kind of elective affinity between populism and the emergence of superfluous populations and the manner in which they are dealt with strategically. Throughout we draw on the populist discourse of the United States President Donald Trump for illustrative purposes.

This seminar is cosponsored by ISSR and the Department of Sociology.


David A. Snow is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, which he joined in 2001. He taught previously at Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas, Austin, and the University of Arizona, where he was Head of the Department of Sociology for nine years. He earned a BA from Ohio University, a MA in Urban Studies from the University of Akron, and his Ph.D. in Sociology from UCLA. His teaching and research interests include collective behavior and social movements; qualitative field methods; social psychology from a symbolic interactionist perspective; changes in cognitive orientation and interpretive perspective with an emphasis on framing processes, conversion, and identity work; religion and the persistence of belief; and socioeconomic marginality in urban contexts with an emphasis on homelessness and poverty. He is the author or co-author of over 100 articles and chapters on these various topics, and of 10 books, including Down on Their Luck: A Study of Homeless Street People (with L. Anderson), The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (edited with S. Soule and H. Kriesi), Together Alone: Personal Relationships in Public Places (with C. Morrill and C. White), Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis (with J. Lofland, L. Anderson, and L. Lofland), A Primer on Social Movements (with S. Soule), and the 3-volume Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements (with della Porta, Klandermans, and McAdam). Professor Snow is past President of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction and the Pacific Sociological Association, and Vice President of the American Sociological Association. He has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a recipient of the Society for the Study of Social Problems’ 2008 Lee Founders Award for career contributions to the study of social problems, the UCI Alumni Association’s 2012 Faculty Achievement Award, the 2013 John D. McCarthy Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Scholarship of Social Movements and Collective Behavior, and the 2016 George Herbert Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. Professor Snow led the recent study of the cost of homelessness in Orange County in collaboration with OC United Way and Jamboree Housing, and currently serves as UCI’s Faculty Athletic Representative and as Co-Director of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding.