Who would identify with an "empty signifier"? : The relational, performative approach to populism

Book chapter


Ostiguy, Pierre and Moffitt, Benjamin. (2021). Who would identify with an "empty signifier"? : The relational, performative approach to populism. In In Ostiguy, Pierre, Panizza, Francisco and Moffitt, B. (Ed.). Populism in global perspective : A performative and discursive approach pp. 47-72 Routledge.
AuthorsOstiguy, Pierre and Moffitt, Benjamin
EditorsOstiguy, Pierre, Panizza, Francisco and Moffitt, B.
Abstract

[Excerpt] In the social sciences and humanities, Ernesto Laclau’s theory of populism has proven to be one of the most influential and seminal approaches to the phenomenon, spawning a body of literature that has both engaged with the conceptual claims made in his work, as well as applying it to cases from across the globe—an influence that has not just been limited to the halls of academia, but has also included the practice of left-populist politicians and parties in Latin America and Europe. This literature, to be sure, has not remained static, nor has Laclau’s theory remained uncritiqued and unchallenged, even by sympathetic authors who have followed in his wake.

Laclau’s approach from 1985 onward was clearly a product of the post-modern (and poststructuralist) discursive turn in circles of political theory. As such, Laclau eschewed his older original work, written from a solid Marxist analytic perspective. In doing so, Laclau ended up, in the process, equating sociological analysis with (historical) materialism, explicitly rejecting talk of social actors as objectively defined sociological categories, and, most certainly, social change as necessarily centred on a privileged “historical agent”. He embraced in any case the broad assumption that everything meaningful is discursively constructed—and conversely, that there is nothing meaningful outside of discourse. Yet something may have been lost in this shift: we want to argue in this chapter that one does not have to throw away the sociological baby with the bathwater, in the turn towards studying populism as a discourse. Instead, we would like to argue, from a more “in-between” though robust position, that the notion of “lived experience” stands exactly halfway between pure discursivism and objectivism, thus at the same time also reintroducing an embodied (and oft-times passionate) dimension that includes suffering, anger, envy, resentment, etc. Although Laclau and Mouffe have of course stressed the affective dimension of populism, we argue that in practice, identification is in fact only possible and effective at this crossroad of discourse and experience.

Page range47-72
Year2021
Book titlePopulism in global perspective : A performative and discursive approach
PublisherRoutledge
Place of publicationNew York, NY
SeriesConceptualising comparative politics
ISBN9780367626563
Publisher's version
License
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Controlled
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online30 Dec 2020
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Jun 2021
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