Discourse about populism is everywhere in politics, media and academia. In this talk I want to critically reflect on the ubiquity of the concept of populism and the analytical and normative limitations of focusing political debate and analysis around populism. I will start with a precise and modest conceptualization of populism as a political logic, focused on distinguishing populism from nationalism and racism with which it is all too often confused. Secondly, I turn attention to the politics of discourses about populism, asking what the debate about populism reveals about those using the term, in politics, media and academia. In conclusion, I will argue against the development of a field of ‘populism studies’, shedding light on the limitations of organizing academic analysis around ‘populism’ and proposing that it is time for academia to move beyond its own ‘populist moment’.
Benjamin De Cleen is associate professor at the VUB Communication Studies Department where he is the coordinator of the English-language master on Journalism and Media in Europe. His research has mainly been focused on radical right rhetoric, and on the discursive conceptualization of populism, nationalism and conservatism.