WP252 Enregistering the nation: Bolsonaro’s populist branding of Brazil

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This paper is concerned with Jair Bolsonaro’s strategy of branding some enregistered tokens of recent polarizations, clashes and alignments that have indexed emerging forms of right-wing political membership in Brazil. In a short period of time, Bolsonaro went from being unknown in the national political debate to being an emblem for sectors of the population dissatisfied with the “system”, and now to being a far-right populist president widely cited in Brazilian and international discussions of politics. Empirically, the paper focuses on the historical conditions for the emergence of the populist register that the Bolsonaro campaign appropriated and commoditized in its digital strategy of recruiting voters. The analysis draws on discursive patterns in the social media accounts of Jair Bolsonaro and his three sons, Eduardo, Fl?vio, and Carlos Bolsonaro, as well as on the citations of their populism in a larger discursive sphere. In a scalar movement that, according to Ernesto Laclau, is typical of populism, Bolsonaro extended the category of the “people” beyond the plebs (i.e., the segment of the people whose demands he tries to assimilate, e.g. fathers who are afraid of (homo)sexual indoctrination in schools) to encompass the populus, or the totality of the people that constitute, according to Laclau, the “popular subject” of populism. Through an intricate mechanics of digital groups in WhatsApp and social media, Bolsonaro’s campaign simultaneously spread particular binary political tokens and grouped them under certain rubrics that circulated as brands of Brazil as a place that represents conservative values and aspirations.