Populist stories of honest men and proud mothers: A visual narrative analysis

Katja Freistein, Frank Gadinger

Published online by Cambridge University Press, December 2019

Keywords: Political Storytelling; Images; Visual Narrative Analysis; Gender; Populism

DOI: 10.1017/S0260210519000421


This article proposes the methodological framework of visual narrative analysis through the study of images and narratives. We are interested in the appeal of political storytelling. In applying an approach of layered interpretation, we study images and slogans to consider the more complex underlying narratives in their political and cultural context. Our exploratory case studies draw on material from right-wing populist parties, namely election campaign posters from Germany and the UK as material for the analysis. We find that narratives operate with a ‘fantasmatic logic’, which adds fantasy to politics, to depoliticise and camouflage their radical intent and gain approval by making consent desirable. We identify two exemplary narratives (honest men under threat; proud mothers) that entrench traditional gender roles in accordance with patriarchy and nationalism. Theoretically, our approach contributes to debates in IR on cultural underpinnings in international politics and the construction of collective identities through shared/divided narratives. Visual narrative analysis provides a promising methodological tool for analysing visual representations in their productive relationship with text. This perspective foregrounds the power of political storytelling through fantasmatic appeal and fosters a better understanding of the global rise of populism.


The Authors

Katja Freistein is a Research Group Leader at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research/University Duisburg-Essen, Germany. Her research is concerned with international organisations, development, and global inequalities as well as discourse and narrative analysis. She has published in Third World Quarterly; Global Society; Journal of International Relations and Development; Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis; and Security Studies.

Frank Gadinger is a Research Group Leader at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research/University Duisburg-Essen, Germany. His main research interests lie in the practice turn in International Relations, political narratives, visual global politics, global governing, and the rise of populism. He recently published the second edition of the book International Practice Theory (with Christian Bueger) by Palgrave MacMillan. His publications have appeared in journals such as International Political Sociology; International Studies Quarterly; Cambridge Review of International Affairs; Leviathan; and International Studies Perspectives.