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The declining middle: mass politics in times of automation


Kurer, Thomas. The declining middle: mass politics in times of automation. 2018, University of Zurich, Faculty of Arts.

Abstract

Widespread political dissatisfaction and the rise of populist parties have disrupted the politics of many post-industrial democracies. This dissertation asks to what extent occupational change and technological progress are responsible for the political turmoil we currently observe. The core finding is that relative shifts in societal standing, an inevitable consequence of a changing employment structure, are key to understanding contemporary politics: it is a perception of relative decline among politically powerful groups, not their impoverishment, that drives support for nationalist-populist movements.
This dissertation argues that we cannot understand the political repercussions of economic conditions in general – and occupational change in the age of automation in particular – without a clear distinction between absolute and relative economic decline. The empirical analysis demonstrates that these distinct experiences trigger different political reactions: “surviving” in an increasingly hostile occupational environment mobilizes affected citizens and increases the demand for identity politics, whereas actually becoming unemployed prompts an economic response. This finding has important policy implications: When relative decline rather than absolute economic hardship is behind the appeal of populist parties, the often-stated remedy of ‘more welfare’ will be an insufficient response to cushion the negative societal and political byproducts of economic modernization.

Abstract

Widespread political dissatisfaction and the rise of populist parties have disrupted the politics of many post-industrial democracies. This dissertation asks to what extent occupational change and technological progress are responsible for the political turmoil we currently observe. The core finding is that relative shifts in societal standing, an inevitable consequence of a changing employment structure, are key to understanding contemporary politics: it is a perception of relative decline among politically powerful groups, not their impoverishment, that drives support for nationalist-populist movements.
This dissertation argues that we cannot understand the political repercussions of economic conditions in general – and occupational change in the age of automation in particular – without a clear distinction between absolute and relative economic decline. The empirical analysis demonstrates that these distinct experiences trigger different political reactions: “surviving” in an increasingly hostile occupational environment mobilizes affected citizens and increases the demand for identity politics, whereas actually becoming unemployed prompts an economic response. This finding has important policy implications: When relative decline rather than absolute economic hardship is behind the appeal of populist parties, the often-stated remedy of ‘more welfare’ will be an insufficient response to cushion the negative societal and political byproducts of economic modernization.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Dissertation (cumulative)
Referees:Häusermann Silja, Gingrich Jane, Walter Stefanie
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
UZH Dissertations
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Language:English
Place of Publication:Zurich
Date:2018
Deposited On:28 Jan 2019 09:41
Last Modified:09 Jun 2020 15:52
Number of Pages:180
OA Status:Green
Related URLs:https://www.recherche-portal.ch/permalink/f/5u2s2l/ebi01_prod011196533 (Library Catalogue)

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