Disassembling Populism (and Putting It Back Together Again)

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Jacob Richter
Disassembling Populism (and Putting It Back Together Again)


Speaking from personal experience, some good and some bad:

The study of populism has seen a resurgence in the last decade thanks in part to electoral successes by parties that seemed to deserve the label and in part to the strong conceptual efforts of many scholars.
The proposed workshop therefore begins with several clusters of characteristics most commonly associated with populism. Each of these appears among the field's major definitions, but none is present in all definitions. Together these clusters offer a rich but bounded field in which the workshop's researchers can engage in comparative research:
• Cultural exclusivism. Perhaps populism's "most visible presence" in Western Europe (Hartleb 2008) is a cluster of [B]closely-related characteristics such as "nativism," "xenophobia," and "anti-pluralism" also labelled as "extreme" or "radical right"[/B] (Mudde 2007). This attribute extends to Eastern Europe as well (Lang 2007, von Beyme 2007).
• Economic redistribution. Populism is also often associated with economic policy that benefits ordinary people (Dornbusch and Edwards 1991) at the expense of "unaccountable corporate elites" (Laycock 2005). [B]Recent work also identifies this "left" populism with opposition to the economic consequences of neoliberal globalization (March 2007).[/B]
• Opposition to the elite. [B]Definitions of populism identify anti-elite or anti-establishment sentiments[/B] (Canovan 2002, Mudde 2004) and some identify anti-elitism its primary element (Ucen 2007). Operationalizing anti-establishment politics is difficult, (challengers always attack incumbents) but recent works include more precise indicators (Barr 2009).
• Opposition to corruption. Related to the anti-establishment element of populism is a link to anti-corruption sentiment. [B]A small group of scholars have explored the central role of anti-corruption appeals in populism, especially in Eastern Europe[/B] (Fieschi and Heywood 2004, @Krastev 2006, Deegan-Krause and Haughton 2008).
• Newness. Studies of new parties in Western Europe (Hug 2000), Eastern Europe (Sikk 2006, Tavits 2008, Bågenholm and Heinö 2008) and Latin America (Mustillo 2007) echo the anti-elite, and anti-corruption attributes of populism, as [B]new parties often emphasize newness to signal independence from the establishment and its corruption[/B] (Sikk 2005).
• Opposition to representative democracy. Some see populism in preference for [B]popular participation and mechanisms of direct democracy such as referendums[/B]. Others doubt populism's commitment to popular empowerment, emphasizing its affinity with the [B]direct mechanisms of "plebiscitary" or "delegative" democracy[/B] (Barr 2009, Roberts 2000)
• Centralized yet unstructured parties. Scholars frequently associate populism [B]with weak party institutionalization, strong emphasis on leaders and low emphasis on party structures or formal organization[/B] (Weyland 2001, Ucen 2007) and other new, non-traditional "business" models of party organization (Hopkin and Paolucci 1999)

The last two are quite personal:
• Charismatic leadership. Related to party organization are the [B]frequent identification of populist with charismatic leaders[/B] (Roberts 2000, Weyland 2001 ). Charisma, while notoriously difficult to pin down, has recently become the subject of careful comparative study through a variety of methods (Pappas 2008; Merolla, Ramos and Zechmeister 2007)
• "Folksy" and "Manichean" rhetorical styles. Jagers and Walgrave (2007) note populism as a question of style, emphasizing the [B]central role of "man in the street communication styles"[/B] (Albertazzi and McDonnell 2007) "friend versus foe" rhetoric (Weyland 2001) and the role of the television and tabloid media (Mazzoleni, Stewart, and Horsfield 2003).

The latter is particularly interesting in today's context.  Two examples in my mind actually have higher educational backgrounds, contrary to the typical image of populist leaders with average or sub-average educational backgrounds: one with a degree in military arts and science, and the other with a master's degree in physics.
"We want to overthrow capitalism," indeed.  Just food for thought.


Thank you for a very interesting post of material I would not otherwise have seen, Jacob.