Uncovering Intended Meanings in Discussions of ‘Populism’ –  Jana Goyvaerts

Vrije Universiteit Brussel

“A lot is being written about populism, by academics, journalists, politicians, … ever since Trump and Brexit it feels like we are stuck in populist times. When you have a closer look at how everyone is talking about populism however, you can see that it is being used it in very different ways. For some it is a threat to democracy, for others its saviour. Sometimes populism is used to describe a political movement quite neutrally, sometimes it is used to accuse a politician for trying to do anything to gain votes.

Even within the academic field there is no consensus about the true meaning or implications of populism. In general, most scholars agree that the minimal core of populism is a type of politics that speaks for ‘the people’ and is against ‘the elite’. It seems to be a concept in academic circles that everyone kind of agrees upon on an intuitive level, but with a meaning that’s a lot harder to pin down when trying to write a definition.

Still it always strikes me how different people outside this academic field think about populism. When talking about the topic of my PhD, some people link populism to a specific party, others make vague statements about our current political climate and some people don’t know what it is. That’s why I am very interested to hear in this World Café what non-academics who are interested in the topic think about populism, and I am looking forward to discuss possible meanings and implications with them.”

– Jana Goyvaerts, Vrije Universiteit Brussel