Q&A with Kiyoteru Tsutsui

I also think that established qualitative approaches such as ethnography and historical comparative analyses have a lot to offer, as the assumption of rational political actors becomes increasingly untenable with value issues like immigration, race, gender, religion and so on dominating the politics of developed democracies. Political sociologists in this tradition are in an advantageous position to examine how actors form their political assumptions, interests, and opinions to engage in political action. As a substantive topic, I think populism and majority-minority relations will be the focus of many public debates going forward, prompting us to think about the essence of democracy again. I have been studying majority-minority relations for a long time, and I sense a significant shift in the way people think of this issue. There is a powerful backlash against the protection of minority rights, which constitutes a core part of the current rise of populism in many countries, even in advanced democracies. Whether the issue is immigration or refugees or gender minority, majority groups are pushing back against according more rights to minority groups, using their entrenched power to stop the erosion of their advantages. Often, this backlash is prompted or fueled by authoritarian demagogues who fan the flame of fear and hate, playing up the threat of outsiders and minorities ending the idealized lifestyle of majority populations. To stem the tide of unsavory authoritarians and hate-filled populism, we need to think again about how democracy works and devise ways to advance minority rights while minimizing the potential of virulent majority pushback against minority rights. Kiyoteru Tsutsui is Professor of Sociology, Director of the Center for Japanese Studies and Director of the Donia Human Rights Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.