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Isabel Airas, BA MSc

Isabel Airas, BA MSc

PhD student at the Department of Geography and Christ's College

Political Geography: Populism and affect theory



  • 2017 - Present: PhD in Geography, University of Cambridge, UK
  • 2019 - 2020: Business Development Intern (6 months full-time), PolyAI, London, UK
  • 2016 - 2017: MSc in Global Politics (Distinction), University of Durham, UK
  • 2013 - 2016: BA in Geography (First Class, Robin Mills Award), University of Durham, UK


  • ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership Award (2017-2021)
  • Honorary Vice-Chancellor's Award, Cambridge Trust, University of Cambridge (2017-2021)
  • Global Politics Scholarship (2016-2017)
  • Pemberton Scholarship, University College, University of Durham (2016-2016)
  • Robin Mills Award (2016)
  • Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship of Academic Excellence (2015)


Over the past decade, 'mainstream' political parties in liberal democracies have been challenged by rising support for insurgent populist movements that reject the status quo. Despite widespread scholarly interest, however, the operative logics of populism as an apparatus of affective production and capture have been overlooked. Taking insights from the affective and more-than-human turns, my research proposes we understand populism through the metaphor of the resonance machine. The argument is made through the case of the nationalist populist party, the Sweden Democrats (SD), with the 2018 Swedish General Election – in which SD grew more than any other party – as my core focus. Adopting an affectively conscientious approach, I analyse the machinery, musterings and mobilisations that fuel populism's momentum.

The analytical value of understanding populism as machinic is shown through the discussion of three central themes. First, I shed light on the feelings, ideas, and deep stories that moved voters. Specifically, I indicate the nuances of distrust and nostalgia and show the importance of events in both the amplification and capture of affect. Second, I show how SD intentionally tapped into the 'gut feelings' of the electorate by harnessing branding tools to project authenticity. Third, I demonstrate how territorialisation occurred at sites of encounter between the party and the electorate – both at physical 'hotspots' and in the online media ecosystem. I reveal the importance of creating an imagined community and shared common sense, suggest this explains how populisms evolve from protest movements into publics, and indicate potential implications for the institutionalisation and maintenance of these movements in the future.

In the past I have looked at the 'Corbyn phenomenon' in the UK and Donald Trump's Twitter campaign during the 2016 US Presidential elections.



  • Airas, I. and Truedsson, C. (2020, online first) 'Contesting and envisioning "trygghet": The Sweden Democrats, Social Democrats, and the 2018 Swedish General Election', Area, DOI: 10.1111/area.12689
  • Airas, I. (2019) 'Hotspots: The affective politics of hope and the "Corbyn phenomenon"', Area, 51, pp. 443-450. DOI: 10.1111/area.12476
  • Airas, I. (2017) 'A Neo-Gramscian Analysis of Brexit,' E-International Relations. 30 May. Available from:
  • Airas, I. (2015) 'Den sociala och kulturella integrationen av invandrare. Fem kvinnors erfarenheter av att integreras i den svenskspråkiga Helsingforsregionen,' in: Helander, M. Kan vi stå till tjänst? Integration på svenska i Finland. Svenska Kulturfonden: Helsinki. 106-110.

Conference presentations

  • Airas, I. (2017) 'Populism, Twitter, and Donald Trump's 2016 Presidential Campaign'. Paper presented at the Annual RGS-IBG International Geographers' Conference, London.
  • Airas, I. (2017) 'Donald Trump: The Affective Life of Populist Anti-Establishment and Anti-Globalisation Politics'. Paper presented at the annual Nordic Geographers Meeting, Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Airas, I (2017) 'Affective Politics and the "Corbyn Phenomenon"'. 8th April. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Boston, MA.
  • Airas, I (2017) 'Politics of Hope: Affective Politics and the Corbyn Phenomenon'. 4th April. Paper presented at the Political Geography Specialty Group Pre-Conference, Harvard, MA.

External activities

  • Member of the Infrastructural Geographies Research Group
  • Member of SMARK Rowing Club in Helsinki, Finland.