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Finding the Way Forward in the Comparative Study of Populism

Fri, November 3, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Omni Parker Mezzanine, Brandeis


The interest populism generated over the past decades continues to foster interdisciplinary debates and exchanges between specialists of Latin American, European, and American politics, as well as political theorists, sociologists, economists, and others. This paper marks an attempt to bridge some major gaps between the various approaches stipulated amidst these debates and to build a comprehensive framework for populism studies going forward. It aims to set forth a new, dynamic, approach fit to study populism over time and across different settings. There are several underlying premises: one, while populism and nationalism are analytically separate, we cannot sufficiently understand or effectively analyze the former entirely independently of nationalism. Second, better appreciating the workings of populism and its complex relationship to democracy requires abstinence from treating it as merely a function of radical oppositions or something that immediately sets about dismantling democratic institutions once politically supreme. Paying more attention to temporality, i.e., changes over time to the circumstances and environments that political actors and the populace face and their reactions to these, could be a key step towards a more nuanced and contingent view of populism and its impact. Further, we must take social movement perspectives and the role of popular mobilization seriously and complement our current focus on populist executives and their discourses with a consideration of the leadership’s relations with meso-level entities and civil society as spaces of potential support/opposition. The paper will explore these through comparisons of contemporary cases in Europe, Turkey, and the Americas.