Theorising Transnational Populist Politics

Project Details


This British Academy funded project secures a long-term partnership between Argentinian and UK scholars and research centres concerned with the politics, economics and ideology of populist movements of the left, in Latin America and Europe.

The collaboration is distinguished by its comparative and theoretical methodologies. The populisms of the two continents are brought into dialogue, while discourse- theoretical tools are deployed to contrast the ideological signifiers, political strategies and socio-economic policies of populist movements.

In recent years populist movements opposed to austerity have emerged in Greece, Spain and Ireland. These movements echo the populisms of Latin America, in Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Our primary research objective is to develop a transnational, theoretical and comparative account of populist politics, socio-economics and ideology, sensitive to context-specific aspects of these movements. The project will be co-ordinated by Dr Mark Devenney (University of Brighton) and Dr Paula Biglieri (University of Buenos Aires).

We had three research objectives, each the focus for one year of the partnership:

In 2015/16 we analysed the political strategies and policies unifying these movements. We ask how political unity between diverse movements is secured, what role political parties play in articulating these common programmes, and how populists reframe the relationship between democracy and debt.

In 2016/17 we investigated the social and economic policies of populist
movements, comparing their responses to national debt, their welfare and poverty programmes, and their articulation of the relationship between state and economy.

In 2017/18 we evaluated the ideological signifiers – the people, equality and participation – which unify populist movements and secure acceptance of their socio-economic and political objectives.

These objectives are framed by a discourse-theoretical methodology emphasising the antagonistic and contingent nature of political discourses.

It studied the ‘practices that articulate the identities of subjects and objects’ (Howarth & Stavrakakis 2000: 3-4). Laclau (1985, 1990, 2004), whose work initiated this methodological approach, was a key advocate of populist politics. He theorised populism as an articulation of equivalence between a plurality of demands, in the name of the people, against a perceived oppressor. Discursive methods (best developed by the EU funded POPULISMUS project, co-ordinated by Stavrakakis) study the structured totality resulting from articulatory practices. Elements, such as debt, which pre-existed populist political articulation, acquire new significance. The partnership at once uses and assesses the ability of these methods to explain the 'grip' of populist policies.

Key findings

These distinct objectives contributed to a long term collaboration between our research centres, aimed at conceptualising political antagonisms in a global context.

The collaboration resulted in a set of publications, workshops in Argentina and the UK and training of PhD students in conference and workshop organisation, linked to specified research outputs.
Effective start/end date1/09/1531/08/18


  • British Academy


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