Assemblages of Pandemic Populism Populism, Social Media and the COVID-19 Pandemic Section Articles


Paige Isaacson


Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed the channelling of affective intensities into demonstrations, sieges, and violent outbursts underpinned by far right-wing populism, including the siege of Capitol Hill, counter-BLM protests and so-called “anti-hygienic protests” against lockdowns and public health measures. These outbursts, as sensational manifestations of the more general turn to populism, attest to the urgency of understanding the structures of feelings underlying populist logic and the affective tactics used to spread them. The intensification of these affects by the pandemic and consequent lockdowns requires urgent attention as the associated socio-economic crisis and moral-panic are contributing to far-right populist resentments, the long-term effects of which remain to be seen. I look here how digital media contributes to what has been termed “pandemic populism” in an assemblage consisting of right-wing populist logic, digital and particularly social media, the COVID19 virus and associated public health measures. Far-right populist media and activists have taken advantage of the confusion around public health measures during the pandemic to blur boundaries between fact and fiction to fit the effects of the pandemic into their own narratives. Accordingly, I include in my analysis consideration of hyper-partisan media and the power of conspiracy theories, mis- and dis-information and how these forms of mediation engage populations in ways that challenge rational models of communication. I adopt a version of affect theory developed by Lisa Blackman in conjunction with Rebecca Coleman’s concept of (infra)structures of feeling to make sense of the affective dimensions underpinning right-wing populism, which exert pressure on and mediate actions and experiences and which have been exacerbated by the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Author Biography

Paige Isaacson, Goldsmiths University of London

Paige is a second year doctoral candidate in the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies department at Goldsmiths in London. She has a Master’s degree in global migration from UCL and a BA in international studies from the University of San Francisco. Her research engages with the affective dynamics of Trumpism and uses Facebook groups as ethnographic ‘sites’, employing social media ethnography to disentangle affects from populist assemblages and observe how affects attached to right wing populist logic are created, transmuted and circulated. She critically interrogates the technical mechanisms and embedded cultural elements of Facebook to understand how it guides user experience. She also uses autoethnographic reflection, recognizing the body as affectively entangled with the material world before and with conscious relations, to tap into some of the mundane aspects of technologies which are otherwise ignored, and to better understand the affective tactics used to spread right wing populist ideology.