The Political Observatory on Populism (POP) is going to become a book. Here below you can read an excerpt from the book’s preface, as well as a list of the news about the book: presentations, reviews and more. How did we get here?
POP started as a game before the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s victory. It witnessed new waves of nationalism, the normalisation of the populist radical right, climate change, left-wing populism ups and downs, the ghosts of the past coming back to haunt us, QAnon and other conspiracy theories, a pandemic, the war in Ukraine and lots of other things. Here you can read the five years anniversary post from 2020, with reflections on what it means to manage a blog on populism for half a decade. In 2022, POP is still around because populism is a key element of our present and will definitely shape our future. In fact, populism is an interpretation of democracy to be reckoned with.
In Attack of the Clones Anakin Skywalker expresses his doubts about democracy and says that the system is not working. He tells Padmé that “we need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what’s the interest of all the people, and then do it.” Padmé is buying none of it, and goes: “That’s exactly what we do. The trouble is that people don’t always agree.” Here the young Anakin embraces for the first time populism, aka the dark side of democracy, and says: “Well, then they should be made to” (thus becoming Darth Vader).
Managing different ideas and dealing with opposed interests is what democracy does, because social conflicts are the source of politics. There is no way around the importance of this fact. Therefore, what was supposed to be a doctoral student’s refuge from the exhausting routine of writing a dissertation is evolving into something else. What was created to be a place to imagine different worlds and enjoy the pop sides of politics, is finding its way into the canon. What started as a game, is now a book.
The Populism Interviews: A Dialogue With Leading Experts.
Between 2015 and 2022, more than 50 articles written by some of the most interesting scholars on populism appeared on this blog. In the same period, POP published over 50 interviews to the most engaging experts on issues related to populism. We are not done yet: new articles and interviews will keep appearing, because populism is here to stay and we have much more to discuss, understand, think about. We have problems to diagnose and solutions to find, and we need the right words to describe reality. As soon as the old ones are no longer accurate, we must imagine new words. Now is the moment to connect the thousands of scattered threads and weave them into a single narrative, breathe, observe this crazy world of ours, and read a book.
The Populism Interviews are there precisely for this reason: to take stock, gather ideas, and then start again. Step on the accumulated experience to see further, beyond the line of hills, and imagine a new future. Becauase the old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. Because now is definitely the time of monsters.
From the Preface — A Long and Winding Road
The literature on populism is like the universe: constantly expanding. This book is Ariadne’s thread to navigate the labyrinth of the Minotaur; 30 interviews with experts to address a contested, chameleonic, protean phenomenon such as populism.
So much has been said about populism — so many papers, chapters, books, special issues, handbooks, newspaper articles, have been published — that you will certainly get lost if you do not have a compass. Not only for young scholars who are interested in the topic and would like to start researching it, but also for more experienced researchers who come from different fields and want to examine populism. Journalists who want to report about populism in a more informed manner are also particularly welcome, and anyone who wants to know more about populism will be sure to find something interesting in these pages.
This book contains 30 stories that, like a prism, reflect the manifold aspects of populism, its characteristics, nuances, dimensions and paradoxes. The book is not a novel, and the chapters can be read in any order you like. However, you will also notice that there are invisible threads connecting the interviews: recurrent themes, concepts, characters.
The choice of experts to interview derives from several considerations about diversity, including but not limited to gender, age and geographical area of provenance, but they are ultimately scholars who – in my personal opinion – do interesting research on populism.
Some of them are established professors with decades of experience in the field. Some are young scholars doing cutting-edge research who have published studies that caught my attention. Others are scholars who come from different fields and met populism on their way, offering much-needed contributions that bridge different approaches and disciplines.
Although political science is at the core of this book, many other approaches are included, from history to media studies, sociology and political theory, looking both at the micro and the macro level, parties, citizens and institutions. Crucially, there are also interviews that might be considered ‘meta’, because they offer reflections on the work that has been done about populism, including problems and biases, as well as interesting venues for future research.
Finally, I asked each author what sparked their interest in populism, and which work or scholar they would recommend. This book is not a textbook or a handbook, it is neither complete nor systematic; what matters here is the journey rather than the destination, and detours are sometimes part of the fun.
Events July to December 2022
■ 20 July 2022 – Lisbon
Presentation of the book at the Social Movements and Political Action seminar organized at the CIES-ISCTE (Lisbon) by Guya Accornero and Tiago Carvalho.
The presentation is at 4PM, both in person and online.
Link of the event here.
The presentation was then uploaded on YouTube, you can find it here.