The Conceptual History of Populism

CEMES and its affiliated Political Economy Reading Group (PERG) are proud to announce a web-seminar with Anton Jäger (PhD, Cambridge) on The Conceptual History of Populism on 12 June 12-14. The event will take place on Zoom and a paper will be provided before the seminar (please contact if you would like to participate). 

In his writings on the topic, Jäger argues that the current use of populism in much of public discourse rests on a normative and ideological understanding of the concept, that must be understood in the context of developments in American political theory from the 1960s-80s. Accordingly, Jäger questions the very usefulness of the concept in public discourse and political theory, where it is used to describe political movements and developments so different, that the concept seems to have lost any descriptive function. This conceptual vagueness has led to a political weaponization of the term, where it can be used to delegitimate any political project that goes beyond or against the political and ideological confines of liberal democracy. Drawing on this conceptual history of populism as well as on recent years electoral losses of so-called Left Populist movements in both Europe and the USA, Jäger also questions the possibilities of mass political mobilization under the banner of Left Populism in the 21st century and calls for a new focus on institution-building and structural reforms favoring the working class.