Populism as narrative, myth making, and the ‘logic’ of political emotions

by Camil Ungureanu and Alexandra Popartan

21 Feb 2020
Journal of the British Academy
8 (pp. 37-43)

Abstract: ‘Populism’ has become one of the most confusing terms in debates in academia and the public sphere. In this paper, we distinguish between formal and substantive approaches to populism (for example, Ernesto Laclau’s formal ontology and the widespread view of populism as a ‘thin ideology’), and argue that they are one-sided: the formal approach that sets aside any questions of discursive content turns ‘populism’ into an ahistorical and catch-all concept; in turn, the substantive approach focused on ideological content tends to overlook the centrality of antagonistic political emotions and myth making in the current populist dynamic, namely its anti-ideological component. As a result, we look beyond the formal–substantive dichotomy and consider the dominant populism as a specific type of political narrative; key to this perspective are narrative patterns, political myth making and a constitutive ‘logic’ of affective intensification.

Keywords: Populism, ontology, ideology, political narrative, political emotions, Ernesto Laclau.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 8,
supplementary issue 1 (A Mediterranean Perspective on European Union and Disunion).

Sign up to our email newsletters