Theorising backlash politics: Conclusion to a special issue on backlash politics in comparison

Karen J. Alter, Michael Zürn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This conclusion to a special issue on backlash politics develops a proto-theory of backlash politics. The special issue’s introduction defined backlash politics as a particular form of political contestation with a retrograde objective as well as extraordinary goals or tactics that has reached the threshold level of entering mainstream public discourse. While a sub-category of contentious politics, we argue that backlash politics is distinct and should not be understood as ‘regressive contentious politics’. Drawing from the contributions to this special issue, we discuss the causes of backlash politics, yet we argue that the greatest theoretical advances may come from studying backlash dynamics and how these dynamics contribute to different outcomes. We develop a proto-theory of backlash politics that considers causes for the rise of backlash movements, how frequent companions to backlash politics – emotive politics, nostalgia, taboo breaking, and institution reshaping – intensify backlash dynamics and make it more likely that backlash politics generate consequential outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)739-752
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • backlash politics
  • contestation
  • emotional politics
  • nostalgia
  • public discourse
  • retrograde
  • taboo breaking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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