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).
Dr Biglieri gave a keynote at the 'Thinking the Political' conference in 2013 at the University of Brighton, organised by Dr Devenney, about the Argentinian/UK theorist of populism, Ernesto Laclau. We have since collaborated on three publishing projects. In our own institutions we organise conferences, workshops and publishing through the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics and “Cátedra Libre Ernesto Laclau", the respective loci for this partnership. We have three research objectives, each the focus for one year of the partnership: In 2015/16 we analyse 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 investigate 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 evaluate the ideological signifiers – the people, equality and participation – which unify populist movements and secure acceptance of their socio-economic and political objectives.
These distinct objectives contribute to a long term collaboration between our research centres, aimed at conceptualising political antagonisms in a global context. These objectives are framed by a discourse-theoretical methodology emphasising the antagonistic and contingent nature of political discourses. It studies 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. Dr Mark Devenney is a scholar of discourse theory, populist theories and improper forms of politics. This project will develop his knowledge of populist practices, and consolidate research links between the UK, Argentina and Southern Europe. Dr Paula Biglieri is a scholar of discourse theory and Argentinian populism. This project will relate her knowledge to European populist movements, and build on existing relations with the University of Brighton. Professor Yannis Stavrakakis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece) leads the EU-funded POPULISMUS project. He has delivered PhD workshops and lectures as a guest of CAPPE, Brighton.