The Politics of Popular Identity: Understanding Recent Populist Movements in Sweden and the United States

University dissertation from Lund University Press, Box 141, S-221 00 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: While populism and populist politics have been the focus of a wide range of studies in the social sciences, few analyses of populist phenomena have moved beyond the level of simple description. This study has three immediate aims: to critique existing theories of populism, to develop a new, analytical view of populism, and apply this view comparatively to two cases. This new view of populism emerges from a post-structuralist and post- Marxist critique of Ernesto Laclau's theory of populism. While Laclau's theory is critically scrutinized, it is done so from a position acheived only through the continued development of his and other post-structuralists' work. Populism is defined not by certain characteristics nor by any specific class base, but is seen as a type of political discourse articulating popular political identity . Populism thus enables individuals to view themselves as part of "the people" and act as such in politics. Two political campaigns are analyzed according to this view of populism. those of Ross Perot in the 1992 U.S. Presidential election and New Democracy in Sweden's 1991 Riksdag election. In each case the symbolic relationship between the candidate(s) and his/their followers articulated popular political identity. This articulation is found not only in speeches and texts (liguistic discourse), but also in the organizational forms of the movements (non-linguistic discourse). Further study of the discourse of opposition candidates and parties shows that the articulation of popular political identity is central to populism and must be taken into account by those that challenge populist movements.

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