Character Assassination and Populism: Challenges and Responses (UPDATED)

Martijn Icks's picture
Call for Papers
November 15, 2018
Virginia, United States
Subject Fields: 
Political Science, Social Sciences, Political History / Studies, American History / Studies, European History / Studies


Character assassination (CA) is the deliberate destruction of an individual’s reputation. This is a timeless phenomenon that appears in many shapes and forms in every cultural, political, and technological epoch. Various CA practices such as lies, insinuations and ridicule have been effective means of persuasion and influence in power struggles for centuries.

As a field of scholarship, the study of character assassination has been experiencing a remarkable academic renaissance. An increased academic interest in the issue led to the formation of the Research Lab for Character Assassination and Reputation Politics (CARP), hosted at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. CARP’s inaugural conference, dedicated to the theory and practice of character assassination and reputation management, was held at George Mason University in March 2017.

One primary characteristic of today’s global society is the growing public distrust in many traditional authorities, including political institutions and the mass media. In the context of institutional legitimacy crisis, there is a great demand for new voices to trust. These changes provide opportunities for populists and charismatic opinion leaders of all kinds to promote their agendas and influence public opinion. There is no generally accepted definition of populism, but a claim to speak for “the people” against a corrupt “elite”, a preoccupation with national identity, and a preference for emotional appeals over rational arguments are often counted among its key characteristics.

Populists frequently use character attacks strategically to shock their audiences and steal the media spotlight. Their inflammatory rhetoric conjures political ratings, generates hype, and manipulates public consensus. Populist persuasion practices are directly related to social judgment formation and may distract people from deliberating on alternative and relevant campaign arguments. Importantly, populist politicians become primary newsmakers for clickbait content in the media that proliferates personal opinions, falsehoods, and unwarranted ad hominem attacks. Belligerent rhetoric also normalizes the culture of incivility which has negative consequences for civil debate in a well-functioning democracy.

The three-day conference takes place Friday, March 15, 2019 – Sunday, March 17, 2019 at George Mason University, VA, in Founder’s Hall at Mason’s Arlington, Virginia Campus (3351 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22201).

We invite scholars to submit research and works in progress which will discuss character assassination and populism from a variety of disciplinary and cultural angles. We welcome both theoretical work and case studies.


Suggested Topics:

  • CA and populism in a historical perspective;
  • Belligerent populist rhetoric and hate speech;
  • Populist psychology, charisma, and underlying conditions;
  • Populist persuasion and impression management;
  • Political incivility and polarization issues;
  • Ad hominem attacks in political debate;
  • Framing wars in policy debate;
  • CA and mediated public scandals;
  • CA and information warfare in international relations;
  • Character attacks on science and scientists;
  • Personalization and infotainment issues in mass media;
  • Memes, caricatures, and visual distortion online;
  • CA, image repair, and inoculation strategies;
  • CA as strategic deception and deliberate misinformation;
  • Legal aspects of libel, slander, and defamation.


Please submit a 250-word abstract of your paper by 15 November 2018 at the latest. Email the abstract as an attachment to Sergei A. Samoilenko at


Contact Info: 

Sergei Samoilenko

George Mason University, VA


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