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Bookshelf: Photo: “Library“, by Stewart Butterfield licensed under CC BY 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Sebastián Moreno Barreneche. The Social Semiotics of Populism. Bloomsbury Publishing, 26 Jan. 2023.


The concept of ‘populism’ is currently used by scholars, the media and political actors to refer to multiple and disparate manifestations and phenomena from across both the left and the right ends of the political spectrum. As a result, it defies neat definition, as scholarship on the topic has shown over the last 50 years. In this book, Sebastián Moreno Barreneche approaches populism from a semiotic perspective and argues that it constitutes a specific social discourse grounded on a distinctive narrative structure that is brought to life by political actors that are labelled ‘populist’.

Conceiving of populism as a mode of semiotic production that is based on a conception of the social space as divided into two groups, ‘the People’ and ‘the Other’, this book uses semiotic theory to make sense of this political phenomenon. Exploring how the categories of ‘the People’ and ‘the Other’ are discursively constructed by populist political actors through the use of semiotic resources, the ways in which meaning emerges through the oppositions between imagined collective actors is explained.

Drawing on examples from Europe, North America and South America, The Social Semiotics of Populism presents a systematic semiotic approach to this multifaceted political concept and bridges semiotic theory and populism studies in an original manner.

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.