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Photo:Manifestação em frente ao Congresso Nacional“, by Senado Federal licensed under CC BY 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Gouvêa, Carina Barbosa, and Pedro H. Castelo Branco. “A Structuring Method for Understanding the Dimensions of Populism.” In Populist Governance in Brazil, pp. 21-49. Springer, Cham, 2022.


“A structuring method for understanding the dimensions of populism” is divided into three subsections: The semantic vacuum of populism; Populism and its manifestation in the limbo of liberal democracy; The semantic range of populisms. Five methodological problems plague the study of populism today: the lack of gender specification; essentialism; conceptual stretching; the negative pole of the concept; and its poor operationalization. To establish a minimum semantic range of populism, a parameter that contains only the core of the concept must be determined by extracting its variables that will be treated as the focus of investigation and not as meanings. In other words, there may be numerous variable properties of populism found in different political and cultural contexts without losing their semantic core. Variable properties can be manifested through different cultural and ideological political mobilizations; intimidation of the free press; the rejection of election results; the weakening and attacks on institutional safeguards; the massive use of intelligence and data control and surveillance services; the polarization of sectarian politics by charismatic leaders; the routine of the charism; rhetoric and demagogues speeches as particular styles of extremist communication; formulation of policies driven by impulses and subject to sudden changes and upheavals because it is designed to respond to the political climate of the moment; anti-democratic behavior; the rhetorical use of government policies and actions; exploring the popular feeling of disbelief in institutions; the segregationist political agenda; the systematic use of the media environment on social platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook; the unrestrained use and promotion of misinformation and fake news; the subversion of the constitutional process and the rejection of the rules of the game; tolerance or encouragement to violence; the excessive use of referenda; the propensity to restrict liberties and culture; the use of political and religious moralism; mythical politics; the politicized inspection body; populist governance of the use of military power in politics and the “militarization of politics,” among other behaviors that fit the anti-democratic and illiberal principles. These variables are supported through formal and informal movements directly or indirectly in the field of democratic illiberalism. With the purpose of extracting the inflection of their senses from the semantic range, we consider that populisms are conceptual-instrumental in nature and can be defined as democratic illiberalism with variable properties. They represent a certain type of ideology, discourse, strategy, mobilization, and political action in the specific cultural and political context. It is celebrated through formal and/or informal movements directly or indirectly in the democratic system by a charismatic leader who represents and leads an anti-establishment force resting his beliefs in moral and ethical institutions with the purpose of consolidating and legitimizing a populist political regime under the mantle of popular sovereignty and democracy.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.