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Photo: “Protesting against PRI“, by Gabriel Saldana, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Brubaker, Rogers. “Why populism?.” Theory and Society 46, no. 5 (2017): 357-385.


It is a commonplace to observe that we have been living through an extraordinary pan-European and trans-Atlantic populist moment. But do the heterogeneous phenomena lumped under the rubric “populist” in fact belong together? Or is “populism” just a journalistic cliché and political epithet? In the first part of the article, I defend the use of “populism” as an analytic category and the characterization of the last few years as a “populist moment,” and I propose an account of populism as a discursive and stylistic repertoire. In the second part, I specify the structural trends and the conjunctural convergence of a series of crises that jointly explain the clustering in space and time that constitutes the populist moment. The question in my title is thus twofold: it is a question about populism as a term or concept and a question about populism as a phenomenon in the world. The article addresses both the conceptual and the explanatory question, limiting the scope of the explanatory argument to the pan-European and trans-Atlantic populist conjuncture of the last few years.

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.