Who are the people and what do they want, think and feel? Throughout the twentieth century, a strong preoccupation existed with determining the preferences – and elucidating the behavior – of citizens as audiences, consumers or voters. In an effort to answer these questions, a myriad of actors have constructed notions of ‘the people’: from social scientists to opinion pollsters and market researchers, from political parties and spin-doctors to media makers, from agencies in government planning to advertisers. Through practices such as opinion polling, survey research and vox pops, discourses on public behavior and opinion were articulated and disseminated, often influencing how citizens understood themselves and those around them. As certain ideas about society and democracy underpin these constructions, historians have in recent years become interested in shedding light on the histories of these constructions and their constructors.

Constructions of ‘the people’ and generalizations of their preferences and opinions are often conceptualized as ‘public opinion’. In determining the processes that underlie these constructions, various theoretical frameworks such as mediatization and scientization have proved to be thought-provoking points of departure. However, oftentimes these frameworks invite us to only focus on the one-directional transfer of information from one sphere to another (for example from media or science to society or politics). This workshop aims to complicate such linear narratives and explore the ‘construction of citizens’ as a dynamic and continuous negotiation between a broad variety of constructors. Moreover, as discussions often are limited to one national context, we propose to explore the motivations of these constructors – and the discourse on ’the people’ that they produced – in an internationally comparative and transnational perspective. The aim is to pay attention to the circulation of ideas and practices in international networks. 

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Radboud University, Nijmegen. Research project ‘The voice of the people.’

Keynote speaker

Prof. Thomas Mergel, Humboldt University Berlin

Panel 1: Media constructions and the public debate

Jamie Jenkins, PhD candidate Radboud University/Sheffield University 
Malte Fischer, PhD candidate Radboud University/Humboldt University Berlin 
Tijs Sikma, PhD candidate Radboud University 

Panel 2: Polled constructions

Eskil Vesterlund, PhD candidate Lund University 
Anton Sylvest Lilleør, PhD candidate University of Copenhagen 
Solange Ploeg, PhD candidate Radboud University 

Panel 3: Scientific constructions

Carl-Filip Smedberg, Postdoctoral researcher Lund University 
Els Minne, PhD candidate Catholic University Leuven 
Rebecca Goldsmith, PhD candidate Cambridge University