Sour grapes: ressentiment as the affective response of grievance politics

Tereza Capelos, Nicolas Demertzis

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Abstract

This article examines the psychological orientations and political preferences of citizens ‘in ressentiment’, a particular psychological state that is a characteristic feature of contemporary grievance politics. Similarly to the Fox in Aesop’s ‘Fable of the sour grapes’, in ressentiment the value of an impotent self and a desirable but unattainable object change to a morally superior self and an unwanted object, while maintaining an aura of victimhood [Demertzis, 2020. The Political Sociology of Emotions. Essays on Trauma and Ressentiment. London: Routledge; Salmela and Capelos, 2021. “Ressentiment: A Complex Emotion or an Emotional Mechanism of Psychic Defences?” Politics and Governance 9 (3): 191–203]. The complex conceptualization of ressentiment often deters its empirical operationalization, and explains the lack of available instruments. We address this double empirical lacuna by presenting a novel 6-item scale of ressentiment launched in the 7th Round of the World Value Survey in Greece, and applying it to examine its political manifestations in a populist European context. Our findings point to its toxic and complex hostile emotionality that extends beyond anger, its low efficacy and negative relationship with political knowledge and scientific evidence, its reliance on conservation and reactionary values and its aversion to emancipatory values, its inactive political stance, and its hollow social contact and precarious collective identities. We discuss the implications of recognizing ressentiment as a significant affective driver of far-right, populist, nativist, and nationalist politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
JournalInnovation: the European Journal of Social Science Research
Early online date17 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jan 2022

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