The Socio-Cultural, Relational Approach to Populism


Abstract


The article presents the relational, socio-cultural approach to populism, also referred to by some as "performative". The approach claims phenomenological validity cross-regionally and is complex enough to provide a theory of populism and its subjective logic, while minimal enough to be used handily by other scholars. Populism is not a set of decontesting ideas or "ideology", but a way of being and acting in politics, embodying in discourse and praxis the culturally popular and "from here", in an antagonistic and mobilizational way against its opposite, together with personalism as a concrete mode of authority. Defined in the most synthetic way, populism is the flaunting of what I typologically call the "low". I also argue that civilizational projects of different kinds create a distasteful "unpresentable other"; populists then claim that this Other is nothing less than the true Self of the nation, its "authentic" people, disregarded in that process. Relatedly, the article introduces the general populist scheme of contending forces, present cross-regionally and in left as well as right populisms, with "the people" facing a three-way coalition: a nefarious minority Otherized; global forces strongly playing in favor of it; a government in line with that minority or alliance. Populism extolls the national pleb "as is" and promise to reconcile the nation with itself by making the plebs the whole. The cultural component of populism should be domesticated by political scientists, since it has deep roots in cleavage formation theory, the sociology of distinction, and updated Gramscian and Weberian sociopolitical analyses.

Keywords: Civilizing; Performative; Personalistic Leadership; Political Identification; Political Communication; Populism; The People

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