You are here

Disassembling Populism (and Putting It Back Together Again): Collaborative Empirical Research on Interactions among Populism’s Attributes

Outline of the topic: Why study populism again?
In John Godrey Saxe’s poem “Blind Men and the Elephant," scholars disagree about the nature of an elephant because each touches a different part and none can see the whole. We can feel superior to the hapless scholars, because we already know about elephants. But what if we didn’t? What if the parts fit together in some other way? Scholars of populism have created sophisticated definitions from a variety of characteristics, but amid a large and steady flow of scholarship that defines attributes of populism and categorizes parties as “populist or not,” there is surprisingly little empirical research about how parties put together populism’s many attributes. This workshop uses the many definitions available in populism theory to identify all major attributes attributed with populism. On that basis it invites scholars to make empirical investigation of the attributes, measuring them, comparing them across countries and over time and drawing conclusions about their interactions.

Relation to existing research: The gaps and how to fill them.
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. But these definitional works often speak past one another presenting lists of populism’s core attributes that are almost the same, but not quite. Instead of trying to resolve the definitional questions, it is useful now to begin from the opposite direction, addressing the manifold attributes and attempting to understand their interaction. The effort is particularly important because many attempts to find an ideal definition do not include empirical indicators, and because much of the existing empirical research on attributes associated with populism do not refer to one another or to the broader populism debate. Furthermore, those scholars who do approach the question from an empirical perspective, often find it possible to address only one aspect. Jagers and Walgrave note that they could only “develop a measurable concept” of populism “by narrowing it”(2007) and even the broadest quantitative work (Ivarsflaten 2008) concentrates only on a few specific attributes. The proposed workshop offers the chance to encourage close comparative study of particular aspects of populism while at the same time providing an opportunity to bring these specific research efforts into discussion with one another.
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 closely-related characteristics such as “nativism,” “xenophobia,” and “anti-pluralism” also labelled as “extreme” or “radical right” (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). Recent work also identifies this “left” populism with opposition to the economic consequences of neoliberal globalization (March 2007)
• Opposition to the elite. Definitions of populism identify anti-elite or anti-establishment sentiments (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. A small group of scholars have explored the central role of anti-corruption appeals in populism, especially in Eastern Europe (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 new parties often emphasize newness to signal independence from the establishment and its corruption (Sikk 2005).
• Opposition to representative democracy. Some see populism in preference for popular participation and mechanisms of direct democracy such as referendums. Others doubt populism’s commitment to popular empowerment, emphasizing its affinity with the direct mechanisms of “plebiscitary” or “delegative” democracy (Barr 2009, Roberts 2000)
• Centralized yet unstructured parties. Scholars frequently associate populism with weak party institutionalization, strong emphasis on leaders and low emphasis on party structures or formal organization (Weyland 2001, Ucen 2007) and other new, non-traditional “business” models of party organization (Hopkin and Paolucci 1999)
• Charismatic leadership. Related to party organization are the frequent identification of populist with charismatic leaders (Roberts 2000, Weyland 2001 ). Charisma, while nortoriously 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 central role of “man in the street communication styles” (Albertazzi and McDonnell 2007) “friend versus foe” rhetoric (Weyland 2001) and the role of the television and tabloid media (Mazzoleni, Stewart, and Horsfield 2003).
Rather than try to synthesize these into yet another definition, scholars in the workshop will devise empirical indicators and apply them over multiple time periods or across multiple settings, to answer questions about where and how populism’s attributes overlap and interact. Is there an empirical link between charisma and political party structure? Are either of these linked to programmatic demands for restricted immigration or economic redistribution? It may be that “populism” possesses an internal coherence despite its many manifestations, but it may also be that it is more useful to discuss specific aspects or specific sets of manifestations that frequently appear together. The workshop will help find answers.

Participants, papers and new processes: What we are looking for.
The workshop seeks papers empirical papers dealing with multiple attributes of populism in single country cases, single attributes across multiple cases, or any combination thereof. We seek a mix of graduate students, junior scholars and a small core of senior scholars in the field (Cas Mudde, University of Antwerp, Kenneth Roberts, Cornell University, Carlos de la Torre, FLACSO-Ecuador and Claus Offe, Hertie School of Governance and Paul Taggart University of Sussex, have committed to attending). We seek scholars willing to build a collective basis for scholarship and contribute data and advice to other workshop participants even before the workshop begins. Such collaboration is particularly suited to innovative use of web-based forms of communication and analysis. The workshop will serve as the core of a broader project to produce an online database of political party development—organized by party, time period and characteristics. The new technology allows participants to assemble data and expert judgments from multiple sources into a frequently updated repository (see the RCSB Protein Bank, www.rcsb.org). Ongoing success will depend on decentralized data management by participants (pioneered in wikipedia and developed in www.swivel.com and manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com). The directors will also pursue more traditional publishing options for participants including a journal special edition and a traditional edited volume.

Biography and Funding: What we bring to the table
Worshop organizer Ann-Cathrine Jungar is Associate Professor of Political Science at Södertörn University and research leader at Centre for Baltic and East European Studies in Stockholm. She has written on governmental coalitions, parliamentarism, referenda, gender equality and transnational democracy. She has published articles in Scandinavian Political Studies, a number of English and Swedish edited volumes. She is currently leading a multidisciplinary research project on populism in enlarged Europe. Workshop co-organizer Kevin Deegan-Krause is Associate Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University and Research Associate with the University of Michigan’s Center for Russian and East European Studies. His 2007 ECPR workshop with Zsolt Enyedi produced that year’s Wildeman Prize Winner and The Structure of Political Competition in Western Europe, to be published as a special edition of West European Politics and Routledge book. He is the author of Elected Affinities (Stanford University Press, 2006) and many articles and chapters.
Södertörn University and its Centre for Baltic and East European Studies have committed funding for a 2011 book manuscript conference and the directors will apply for additional funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and Endowment for the Humanities.

Appendix: Reference List of Works Cited
Albertazzi, Daniele, and Duncan McDonnell. 2008. Twenty-first century populism : the spectre of Western European democracy. Basingstoke [England]; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bågenholm, Andreas, and Andreas Johansson Heinö. 2007. The Success of New Political Parties in Central and Eastern Europe. A framework for studying its causes and consequences. In . Södertörns högskola. http://webappl.sh.se/C1256EC10031E916/0/FAAD79117E5A139AC125729D0025CDE1/$file/B%C3%A5genholm&Johansson.pdf.
Barr, Robert. 2009. Populists, Outsiders and Anti-Establishment Politics. Party Politics 15, no. 1: 29-48.
von Beyme, Klaus. 2007. Populism and right-wing Extremism in modern Democracies. In Populism in Central Europe, 26-40. Prague: Association for International Affairs (AMO).
Canovan, Margaret. 2002. The People, the Masses, and the Mobilization of Power: The Paradox of Hannah Arendt's "Populism". Social Research. 69, no. 2: 403.
Deegan-Krause, Kevin, and Tim Haughton. Forthcoming. Toward A More Useful Conceptualization of Populism: Types and Degrees of Populist Appeals in the Case of Slovakia. Communist and Post-Communist Studies.
Dornbusch, Rudiger and Sebastian Edwards. 1991. The Macroeconomics of populism in Latin America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fieschi, Catherine, and Paul Heywood. 2004. Trust, cynicism and populist anti-politics. Journal of Political Ideologies 9: 289-310.
Hartleb, Florian. 2008. Party-based Euroscepticism in Germany. European Consortium for Political Research Joint Sessions, Rennes.
Hopkin, Jonathan, and Caterina Paolucci. 1999. The business firm model of party organisation: Cases from Spain and Italy. European Journal of Political Research 35, no. 3: 307-339.
Hug, Simon. 2000. Studying the Electoral Success of New Political Parties: A Methodological Note. Party Politics 6: 187-198.
Ivarsflaten, Elisabeth. 2008. What Unites Right-Wing Populists in Western Europe?: Re-Examining Grievance Mobilization Models in Seven Successful Cases. Comparative Political Studies 41, no. 3: 3-23.
Jagers, Jan, and Stefaan Walgrave. 2007. Populism as political communication style: An empirical study of political parties' discourse in Belgium . European Journal of Political Research 46, no. 3: 319-345.
Krastev, Ivan. 2007. The populist moment. Eurozine.
Lang, Kai Olaf. 2007. Populism in ''Old'' and ''New'' Europe: Trends and Implications. In Democracy and Populism in Central Europe: The Visegrad Elections and Their Aftermath. Bratislava: IVO.
Laycock, David. 2005. Visions of popular sovereignty: Mapping the contested terrain of contemporary western populisms. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 8, no. 2: 125-144.
March, Luke. 2007. From Vanguard of the Proletariat to Vox Populi: Left-Populism as a 'Shadow' of Contemporary Socialism. SAIS Review 27, no. 1: 63-77.
Mazzoleni, Gianpietro., Julianne. Stewart, and Bruce. Horsfield. 2003. The media and neo-populism : a contemporary comparative analysis. Praeger series in political communication. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
Merolla, Jennifer, Jennifer Ramos, and Elizabeth Zechmeister. 2007. Crisis, Charisma, and Consequences: Evidence from the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election. Journal of Politics 69, no. 1: 30-42.
Mudde, C. 2004. The Populist Zeitgeist. Government and Opposition 39, no. 4: 542-563.
Mudde, Cas. 2007. Populist radical right parties in Europe . Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.
Mustillo, Thomas. 2007. Entrants in the political arena new party trajectories during the third wave of democracy in Latin America. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
Pappas, Takis. 2008. Political leadership and the emergence of radical mass movements in democracy. Comparative Political Studies 41, no. 8: 1117-1140.
Roberts, Kenneth. 2000. Populism and Democracy in Latin America. Carter Center, Atlanta, GA. http://www.cartercenter.org/documents/nondatabase/Roberts.pdf.
Sikk, Allan. 2005. How unstable? Volatility and the genuinely new parties in Eastern Europe. European Journal of Political Research 44, no. 3: 391-412.
Sikk, Allan. 2006. Highways to power: new party success in three young democracies. Dissertationes rerum publicarum Universitatis Tartuensis, 1. [Tartu]: Tartu University Press.
Tavits, Margit. 2008. Party Systems in the Making: The Emergence and Success of New Parties in New Democracies. British Journal of Political Science 38, no. 1: 113-133.
Ucen, P. 2007. Parties, Populism, and Anti-Establishment Politics in East Central Europe. SAIS Review 27, no. 1: 49-62.
Weyland, Kurt. 2001. Clarifying a Contested Concept: Populism in the Study of Latin American Politics. Comparative Politics 34: 1-22.