Populism has a complicated relationship with power and democratic institutions. Conventional wisdom assumes that populists cannot last in power; they either become mainstream or turn authoritarian. Such hypotheses are arguably rooted in systematic, anti-populist theorizations, which view populism always as a threat to democracy, connecting it with demagogy and irresponsibility and understanding it as a force that belongs to the opposition.
This talk puts these claims under scrutiny, as they distract our attention from populism’s ‘essence’—the construction of collective identities in the name of ‘the people’ against ‘the elites’. Using a discursive and performative perspective, Giorgos Venizelos focuses on the charismatic function of populism to mobilize emotions and interpellate identification through antagonistic discourse and transgressive aesthetics. Such an account offers a rigorous yet flexible conceptualization that allows one to grasp the rhetorical and affective dynamics of populism in power.
Giorgos Venizelos is Fellow in Political Polarization at the Democracy Institute, Central European University. His research is situated at the intersections of contemporary political theory and comparative politics with a special focus on populism, anti-populism and discourse theory. He has published in journals including Political Studies, Constellations, Critical Sociology and Representation . He co-convenes the Populism Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association ( www.giorgosvenizelos.com).