Bourgenouning Populisms under Crisis of Hegemony and Imperialism

Busra Ferligul, Binghamton University

Populism has been one of the most over-used buzzwords of the social sciences for more than a decade. This heavy use burdens the scholars trying to define the concept, which eventually lowered the common denominator to define populism. Certain ideologies, parties, forms of mobilization, economic or social policies do not explain what populism is anymore. Populism and populist leaders/parties of contemporary times do not have any distinctive strategy, policy, or political style that can strictly set them apart from the non-populist ones. However, there appears to be an overall consensus on who a populist is and not. This paper argues the burgeoning of the concept does not call for renewed definitions. Instead, we should explain it with the hegemonic crisis of the imperialist order. Hegemony's ability is not limited to exerting absolute political power. It also defines political norms. As the hegemony's overall command and strength decline, its ability to determine the norms declines. This decline brings "anomalies" in politics: Actors who wouldn't have been accepted in formal politics, figures who almost stand as a mockery of "politics as we know it," weak leaders who are not leaving their posts despite the pressure. Such actors make up the scene of populism today. This paper locates the most recent emergence of populism in the context of the decline/ weakening of the hegemony. The paper also discovers the two other populism phases in the global hegemonic context: 1940s and 1980-90s populisms in Latin America, respectively known as import substitution and neoliberal adjustment eras. This approach helps us understand the historical and political reasons behind the emergence of populism instead of the mundane work of labeling the politicians/ parties using definitions without distinctive value.

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 Presented in Session 168. Colonialism and Empire