Populism and the Democratisation of Democracy

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Seminar 34 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Cristiano GIANOLLA, Centre For Social Studies, VAT NUMBER: 500825840 - University of Coimbra (& University Sapienza of Rome - Italy), Portugal
The literature is unable to provide a clear definition of populism and adopts this term as a label for political phenomena of different kind. Populism is a range of both, political practices and discourses. As a practice, it explores ways to devolve power to the people opposing the political centrality of the elite with the controversial trust in the populist leader and a direct involvement of the ‘people’. As a discourse, populism is the simplification of social and political issues leading to easy solutions and to the polarisation of positions (us vs them). All political parties adopt populist rhetoric, for example during electoral campaigns; subsequently they embrace political ‘compromise’ as the democratic common sense. The identification of populism and demagogy is misleading because it relates only to the discursive dimension (neglecting the practical dimension) and underestimates the wider use of demagogic discourse in the political sphere. Populist movements reject compromising the orthodoxy of substantive democracy that they claim to strive for.

Populist experiences are diversified both for their orthodoxy in the practice and for the degree of demagogy of their discourse. Populist phenomena range from xenophobic, racist or nationalist to progressive, participatory and innovative experiences that carry a utopian view of democracy aimed at improving the substance of democracy as opposed to the form. New experiences of populism, such as the 5 Star Movement in Italy and the Aam Aadmi Party in India, challenge in different ways the ongoing crises of democratic representation and provide utopian solutions which transit to experimental and controversial political experiences. This paper analyses to which extent and with which contradictions populist experiences contribute to the democratisation of democracy.