25 Sep 2017 9:00am - 6:30pm Crausaz Wordsworth Building, Robinson College, Cambridge


Does democracy remain a viable means of addressing the issues of highly complex societies in the 21st century? As currently realised by representative institutions such as parliaments and other elected bodies, democracies often face the challenge of steering a middle course between technocracy and populism. Effective policy-making inevitably generates a need to draw upon expert knowledge. And yet because such knowledge is often abstruse, inaccessible and does not lend itself to public scrutiny, exclusive dependence upon it tends to deprive the policy of democratic legitimacy. A populist backlash can result.

The proposed workshop aims to refine our understanding of both technocracy and populism by considering the relationship between them. An obvious tension often dominates our portrayal: populists speak to the heart while technocrats appeal to the mind by reframing political conflicts as technical problems. Our workshop will encourage a more nuanced assessment of this relationship. Does it have to take the form of an antagonism, as many scholars and political commentators tend to assume? A historical perspective reveals intriguing points of overlap and contact. The Technocracy Movement in the 1930s in America was not the only example of an attempt to fuse elements of populism and technocracy. A contemporary perspective will complement our historical investigations by providing the chance to consider the shifts brought about by digital technology. Technocratic leaders in Latin America have revealed themselves to be adept at deploying social media and at devising strategies of political communication that are often highly populist in nature. Such examples demonstrate how the very digital technologies that inspire current technocratic hopes and visions may contribute to giving populism a new lease of life.

The closed-door workshop is organised around three panels: epistemologies; legitimacies; aesthetics and emotions. The workshop will be followed by a public policy event and discussion that is open to the public (details to follow). 

Places are limited. If you would like to attend, please contact Tanya Filer (tf239@cam.ac.uk) or Andrew McKenzie-McHarg (am2213@cam.ac.uk).



Chris Bickerton (University of Cambridge)

Tanya Filer (University of Cambridge)

Andrew McKenzie-McHarg (University of Cambridge)



Supported by Conspiracy and Democracy, the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the Leverhulme Trust, the Philomathia Forum, and POLIS



Monday 25 September 9.15 - 9.40am

Registration, Crausaz Wordsworth Building foyer, Robinson College

9.40 - 9.45am


9.45 - 11.15am

Panel 1: Epistemologies (Chair: Alfred Moore)

Lino Camprubi (Max Planck Institute) – Gramsci in Francoist Spain: Technocrats as the “universal class”?

Federico Finchelstein (New School) – Populists vs Technocrats? A Historical View

Yascha Mounk (Harvard) – Illiberal democracy and undemocratic liberalism: is populism the solution?

11.15 - 11. 30am


11.30 - 1pm

Panel 2: Legitimacies (Chair: Hugo Drochon)

Claudia Landweher (Mainz) – Technocracy and Populism – a demand-side perspective

Noam Gidron (Princeton/Hebrew University of Jerusalem) –  Populism as a Problem of Social Integration

Chris Bickerton (Cambridge) and Carlo Invernizzi Accetti (City College of New York) – “People in this country have had enough of experts”: the technocratic challenge to democratic representation (presented by Chris Bickerton)

1 - 2pm


2 - 3.30pm

Panel 3: Aesthetics and Emotions (Chair: Tanya Filer)

María Pendás (Columbia) – Fascist Façades: Glass, Stone, and the Poetics of Technocracy in Franquista Spain

Rafael Sánchez (Graduate Institute, Geneva) – Populism’s ‘Royal Road’ to War

Nayanika Mathur (Oxford) – Modi’s Demon and Anti-Corruption Measures in India

3.30 - 5pm

Free time, tea and coffee available in Crausaz Wordsworth Building

5 - 6.30pm

Public lecture in SG1, Alison Richard Building

Sebastian Mallaby – Whither Technocracy? Experts Between Policy and the Public Sphere


Drinks reception


Dinner for workshop speakers and invited guests at Queens' College

Upcoming Events


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk