Prof. Dr. Ruth Wodak

The Politics of Fear. The shameless normalization of far-right discourse

The Politics of Fear. The shameless normalization of far-right discourse 

Zeit: 16.06.2021, 18-20 Uhr

Many context-dependent socio-political, economic, cultural, and historical factors, apart from the performance of allegedly charismatic leaders, lead to the rise of the populist farright, supported by conservative mainstream parties and the (social) media (Bevelander & Wodak 2019). Recently, huge scandals (such as in Austria – “Ibizagate”; Wodak 2019) illustrate that formerly taboo subjects and expressions in mainstream discourse are being accepted more and more (‘normalization’) and  have become part and parcel of mainstream politics. Such normalization goes hand in hand with a certain shamelessness’: the limits of the sayable are shifting regarding both the frequency of lies (Block 2019) and the violating discourse and politeness conventions – as well as regarding repeated attacks on salient democratic institutions. Discursive strategies of provocation, blame avoidance, denial, Manichean division, victim perpetrator reversal as well as eristic argumentation and conspiracy theories dominate official communication, accompanied by ever more nativist nationalism and the racialization of space.

In this vein, I claim that such rejection of dialogue relates to a ‘post-shame era’ rather than merely to a ‘post-truth era’ (e.g., Scheff 2000; Hahl et al 2018). For example, normalizing the assessment of migrants and refugees (all labeled as “illegal migrants”) as a threat to inner security, a burden on the welfare state and education system must be perceived as an international development – generally instrumentalizing a “politics of fear” and reinforcing a “coarse civility” [rohe Bürgerlichkeit] (Heitmeyer 2019; Wodak 2021).


Bevelander, P. & Wodak, R. (Eds.) (2019) Europe at the Crossroads. Confronting Populist, Nationalist, and Global Challenges. Göteborg: Nordicum.


Block, D. (2019) Post-Truth and PoliticalvDiscourse. London: Routledge. 


Hahl, O., Kim, M., & Zuckerman Sivan, E.Z. (2018) ‘The authentic appeal of the lying demagogue: proclaiming the deeper truth about political illegitimacy’, American Sociological Review, 83(1): 1–33.


Heitmeyer, W. (2019) Autoritäre Versuchungen. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp.


Scheff, T. (2000) ‘Shame and the social bond: a sociological theory’, Sociological Theory, 18(1): 84–99.


Wodak, R. (2020) The politics of fear: the shameless normalization of far-right discourses, London: Sage.


Wodak, R. (2019) Austria’s Smoking Gun: Strache, ‘Ibiza-gate’ and ‘Saint’ Sebastian. 


Ruth Wodak is Emerita Distinguished Professor of Discourse Studies at Lancaster University, UK, and affiliated to the University of Vienna. Besides various other prizes, she was awarded the Wittgenstein Prize for Elite Researchers in 1996, an Honorary Doctorate from University of Örebro in Sweden in 2010, and from Warwick University in 2020. In 2018, she was awarded the Life Achievement Prize (Austria, Ministry of Women’s Affairs). She is member of the British Academy of Social Sciences and of the Academia Europaea. Ruth is senior editor of The Journal of Language and Politics, and co-editor of Discourse & Society and Critical Discourse Studies. Her research interests focus on (critical) discourse studies; (national) identity politics and politics of the past; prejudice and discrimination; and on ethnographic methods of sociolinguistic field work. Recent book publications include The Politics of Fear. The shameless normalization of farright Discourse. (Sage 2020; 2nd revised and extended edition; translation in to the German 2020); Österreichische Identitäten im Wandel (Springer 2020; with R. de Cillia, M. Rheindorf, S. Lehner); Europe at the Crossroads (Nordicum 2019, with P. Bevelander); The Handbook of Language and Politics (Routledge 2018, with B. Forchtner); Kinder der Rückkehr. Geschichte einer marginalisierten Jugend (Springer 2018, with E. Berger), and The Discourse of Politics in Action. Politics as Usual (Palgrave 2011). See  for more information on on-going research projects and other recent publications