Identity, Populism and the Romantic Impulse

Japan and the Politics of Nostalgia

Anti-globalization and the emergence of populist/authoritarian politics in Europe and North America suggests that the pillars of the post-1945 era are crumbling. The collapse of Cold War ideological rivalry and the stabilizing certainty of America’s post-1989 “unipolar moment”, have focused attention on identity politics as a critical challenge to security in the 21st century. Some see this as a post-modern, linear phenomenon and a response to economic changes. Others suggest that it is a cyclical trend reflecting the widespread appeal of powerful, but factually questionable historical narratives. Combining both these linear and cyclical trends, and relying on moral psychology and intellectual history, provides a more compelling explanation for the populist phenomenon. It also raises two policy-relevant questions: why has it been so difficult to anticipate the emergence of populism; and: why has the populist wave apparently had little traction in the advanced polities of Northeast Asia? In Japan and South Korea, political tensions are frequently shaped by divisions over competing narratives of national identity. Understanding the appeal of these narratives and the romantic impulse that drives some leaders to embrace contentious historical arguments at home, while practicing rational, pragmatic politics abroad, highlights the danger of assuming that countries such as Japan will remain immune to the populist contagion.

About the speaker

  • John Nilsson-Wright is Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Politics and International Relations in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge. His work concentrates on the Cold War relationship between the United States and Northeast Asia, with particular reference to the security and political relationships between the United States and Japan and the two Koreas, but has expanded to include contemporary regional security issues and political change.


  • Hamit Bozarslan is Professor at EHESS. His research interests focus on the history of modern and contemporary Turkey, the Kurdish issue, the question of minorities in the Middle-East, and the history and sociology of violence in the Middle-East.
  • Jean-Frédéric Schaub is Professor at EHESS, Director of Excellence Laboratory TEPSIS and of website, specialist in Iberian Studies. His latest book is Race Is about Politics: Lessons from History (2019, Princeton University Press).


  • Sébastien Lechevalier is Professor at EHESS and President of the Fondation France-Japon (FFJ), he currently coordinates the INCAS Project (Understanding Institutional Change in Asia: A Comparative Perspective with Europe) under the EU Horizon 2020 programme. He specialised in Asian Capitalisms. 
Aires culturelles, Sociologie et sciences politiques Analyse de discours, Imaginaire, Nationalisme, Sociologie politique Japon

Informations pratiques

  • Jeudi 21 février 2019 - 17:00 - 19:00
  • EHESS (Salle BS1_28) - 54 boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris
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