20th Dilemmas in Human Services International Research Conference: Re-claiming populism

Reclaiming populism: people, community and the public

20th Annual Dilemmas for Human Services International Research Conference, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 13th – 15th September 2017

At this year’s Dilemmas we are celebrating the Public and reclaiming Populism.

In this period of the unexpected in politics, there is one thing on which Left and Right agree – politicians such as Trump, Wilders, Le Pen, et al are populists. In their view, Populism supports an unraveling of global economic integration, opposing cultural liberalization (and in some cases secularization), views society as separated into antagonistic camps (‘us’ versus ‘them’) to promote hostility towards immigrants in general and Muslims in particular, supporting a kind of mass national tribal identity. Yet Sanders could also be described as populist, which begs the question: what is populism?

The term was first used in 1891 by David Overmeyer, a Kansas lawyer, to describe a grassroots political movement among small farmers in the American South, Midwest and Plains states to fight banks, big corporations, and other "monied interests". The movement had its heyday from 1889 to 1896—what historian Lawrence Goodwyn called a “moment”.  At root, Populism held anti-corporation views which were based on a belief that the common citizen could handle economic and political problems through a strong central government and strong communities. They revolted against banks and corporations because they believed that they both tore apart communities and undermined democracy, and that business regarded a worker as nothing more than material for “production and profit”.  American populists created agricultural and industrial cooperatives, supported women’s suffrage, the eight hour workday and labor unions, the direct election of the president, and the recall of corrupt politicians from office.  They made some headway in overcoming racism, arguing that “The problem is poverty, not race.” Moral politics did not concern them.  At a time when prohibition was debated widely, one populist said: “The issue is not whether a man shall be permitted to drink but whether he shall have a home to go home to, drunk or sober”.

Populism was not the bleak, anti-rationalist, corrosive politics of Le Pen and Trump, but a means of achieving, in Walt Whitman’s words, “a democratic vista”.  We think it is time that Populism is reclaimed and therefore invite papers that celebrate and reclaim the Public (locally, regionally and globally), evaluate the contribution of different sociocultural contexts to improve public services, progressive community-based initiatives, and critically evaluate public services as a force for good. The pro-business narrative of Trump, Brexit and other neo-populists’ agendas means public service organisations are likely to experience another influx of business-style reforms. Papers which focus on what we know about the strengths and limitations of such approaches are particularly welcome. Additionally, papers may seek to consider where this turn leaves the evidence-base when the expert view is rejected.

We would also welcome proposals for short workshops on methods, particularly new or innovative methods used when researching organisations and the people who work in them.

Conference participants can be assured of a warm welcome and a critical, scholarly and supportive environment. An important aim of Dilemmas Conferences are to facilitate the meeting of both new and established researchers to share ideas in a supportive and scholarly environment that encourages critical engagement with academic texts and empirical research. The emphasis is thus on critical analysis and reflection and the (re)conceptualisation of contemporary issues as they relate to the human services. 

In recognition of our aim to build connections and grow the next generation of new organisational researchers, we will also be putting in place activities specifically designed for Doctoral students, and would welcome suggestions from interested attendees on how these sessions might be run.

We will also be actively considering possibilities for mainstream edited collections and special issues. Past conference publications include special issues of Equal Opportunities International, and Policy and Politics, as well as edited collections such as Gender and the Public sector, London: Routledge and Questioning the New Public Management, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Deadline for abstracts is Monday, 24th July

Abstracts should be submitted to Jennifer Gosling –

For those who will be requiring accommodation in London, we have secured good rates at Goodenough College  a residence a very short walk from the conference venue.  Rates are from £128+ per night. For more information please contact Gillian McKay on Please note that these accommodations are very popular and will book up soon.

Organising committee

Jenny Gosling, Joshua Robinson, Gillian McKay and Richard Giordano



For more information please contact Gillian McKay on