Populism as political performativity: implications for policy

Dr Ewen Speed will deliver this talk entitled 'Populism as a political performativity: implications for policy'.


Abstract: Over the past decade, some of the world’s most stable parliamentary democracies have witnessed a revival in populist political discourse, movements and leaders. These have been interpreted as the outcome of a popular/populist backlash against the traditional institutions of liberal democracy and establishment politicians. Regardless of the political stability of many of these so-called populist political regimes, they have relatively quickly established a policy context where discourses of welfarism, nativism and political conservatism have come much more to the fore than in previous decades. This has very real and immediate implications for many areas of health and social policy (immigration or reproductive health are two ready examples). This revival also tends to be underpinned by a nascent anti-intellectualism, or more specifically, an anti-expertise rhetoric, which seeks to challenge, resist and undermine claims to evidence or counter-evidence that might contradict a populist line.

In these policy contexts, this paper seeks to interpret populism as a performative political act, predicated on drawing lines of equivalence (and difference) between different actors. Rather than regarding these populist appeals as a form of ‘dirty politics’ I draw from a performative frame which seeks to address questions of how and why this particular form of populist politics are so prevalent (i.e. questions of why here, and why now?). This interpretation is then applied to frame a discussion of the challenges that the rise of populism poses for the implementation of health policies and more generally for the health and welfare of populations.


Free and open to all