Torture and Popu­list Mascu­li­nity: Poli­ti­cal Prospects of Osten­ta­tious Ille­gi­ti­mate Violence (2024)

Peer reviewed / Buchveröffentlichung


The contribution starts from the observation that several male populist leaders prominently endorse torture as a political means. While political sociology has mostly, and fruitfully, concentrated on analyzing strategies and mechanisms of legitimizing violence (and, more generally, domination), and of hiding rather than showing off illegitimate violence, I will focus on the political benefits of politicians publicly associating themselves with torture – which is in most contexts an epitome of illegitimate violence. Drawing from empirical examples, I argue that there can be a specific payoff for a politician to avow himself to torture precisely because it is a largely delegitimated as well as illegal form of violence. The readiness to do ‘whatever it takes’ regardless of the limits of legitimacy pairs up with the capacity of violence that is commonly associated with masculinity, feeding into a heroized political fighter figure. At the same time, the open disregard for established rules – framed as being developed and monitored by mainstream international ‘elites’ – caters for a populist anti-establishment stance, which can be further supported by the coarse language these politicians use for endorsing torture. Thus, publicly embracing torture may cater both for a populist stance and for political masculinity and thus form an ingredient of ‘populist masculinity.’


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Inhetveen, Katharina (2024): „Torture and Populist Masculinity: Political
Prospects of Ostentatious Illegitimate Violence“, in Transcience 15 (1),
S. 39–61.