A Dangerous Excess? Rethinking Populism in the Americas

Mirko Petersen

Bielefeld University


In this paper, I advocate a rethinking of the conceptualization of populism, a political phenomenon that is frequently discussed in inter-American debates, but rarely explained in a convincing way. The characterization of political actors as “populist” should not be considered sufficient. Sometimes, especially when it is used as an umbrella word for left-wing and right-wing mobilizations, it can even be an obstacle for the discussion of political contents. Based on the works of Ernesto Laclau, I propose to understand populism not as a type of regime, movement or person, but as a political logic that can occur in many different ways and contexts. This logic, which can reach different extents, starts with a crisis of the hegemonic power block and decreasing legitimation of its discourse. Heterogeneous demands of dominated societal sectors are expressed against the status quo. These demands have to be brought together for a broader mobilization and the possibility of a new hegemony. In the article, the example of the MAS in Bolivia is used to illustrate how the populist logic presents itself.

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