For a month, a visiting researcher, Szilvia Horváth from the Faculty of Law at Hungarian Eötvös Loránd University, joins HEPPsinki to contribute to our research on Hungarian politics. Her stay is funded from the Academy of Finland project Whirl of Knowledge: Cultural Populism and Polarisation in European Politics and Societies.
At the Eötvös Loránd University, Szilvia holds a state-founded fellowship for three years and works in political theory. Her primary research interest is antagonism combined with the political theory of the classical polis. She considers this a solid critical capacity against current non-democratic trends, especially as she comes from Hungary and, as she termed it, from 'Orbánism.' For the same reason, Szilvia's theoretical research also covers questions on democracy, focusing on the democratic character – and democratic capacity – of agonism.
As she explained, she started researching these areas motivated by being a member of a research group of young student fellows around 2005 led by a currently renowned Hungarian discourse theorist, Márton Szabó. When finishing her own PhD for Essex, Emilia Palonen held a fellowship at the Collegium Budapest in Hungary, she found the political discourse theory group at the Hungarian Academy of Science.
She joined workshops exactly when Ernesto Laclau's On Populist Reason was published. She had been discussing the drafts at the Essex Ideology and Discourse Analysis seminars. After working through this in Hungarian in Budapest, the group realised Chantal Mouffe's On the Political was also out. So, after discussing for the second semester, Emilia helped the group to discuss Mouffe's work in English.
The Essex School discourse studies was an entirely new intellectual direction in Hungary. Szilvia inspired by Emilia’s presentations about Mouffe's 'agonism', followed in a similar direction.
Szilvia's study combines Mouffe's 'agonism', using Marchart’s terms, 'a dissociative view on politics with an associative one.' She discovered the latter in the ancient Athenian and the Pre-Socratic, mainly the Sophistic philosophy, alongside Hannah Arendt, to put it simply, in the political theory of the polis.
The other reason that shaped Szilvia's research is her political experience in Hungary. As she explained, a democratic decline can be a solid and robust personal experience, precisely the conflictual nature of the declining Hungarian democracy, which discourse theorists of populism conceptualize as polarization.
The discourse studies workshops in Budapest took place some twenty years ago, but Szilvia remained in touch with Emilia, and their academic relationship also turned into a friendship. They discussed populism, right and left wing in cafés. Szilvia learnt much from Emilia about Laclau's and the Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller's political theory. Furthermore, Emilia gave insightful and impressive comments and advice on her work.
Most recently, Szilvia met Emilia and the HEPPSters, colleagues from the HEPP, in Innsbruck, Austria, at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) conference. This summer, Szilvia read and commented on draft chapters in Emilia's upcoming book on Hungarian politics.
In December, Szilvia will present a draft manuscript to the HEPP team at our weekly seminar series. She would also like to introduce another in some form. The paper she will discuss at the seminar is about the strategies for building the regime's hegemony in Hungarian academia. The other that she would like to present is about the theoretical capacity of stasis in agonistic theory.
She has recently published her article: 'Illiberal Cultural War and Hegemony-Building in Hungarian Academia: Scholars between Cooperation and Resistance.'
In her free time, Szilvia plans to do leisure activities in Helsinki, such as walking and visiting museums and contemporary art exhibitions. It is her first visit to Helsinki, and she thinks it is a bit colder for her 'Central European warm-oriented soul and body.' She is also enjoying the fresh air, the sight of the sea and the snow falling because, in Hungary, it is not snowy often during winter. She believes that the snow makes Helsinki 'unearthly beautiful.' She had a very warm welcome in Helsinki, and she hopes to give back some of it in return.