The populism of the privileged and its implications for the study of populism and for discourse theory

  • De Cleen, B. (Speaker)
  • Juan Alberto Ruiz Casado (Contributor)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


This paper explores how and with what effect the populist identity of ‘the people-as-underdog’ can, counterintuitively, be discursively articulated by those who occupy comparatively privileged positions within society, often as a strategy for maintaining their positions of privilege and dominance. Thinking through the notion of a ‘populism of the privileged’, there are three steps to our argument. First, drawing on the literature on privilege and critically assessing the taking for granted of underdog identities in studies of populism we identify intersections between populism and privilege on the level populist leaders, support for populism, and beneficiaries of populism. We call these populism by, with and for the privileged. Secondly, drawing on a discourse-theoretical approach to populism and further deepening its constructivist perspective as well as sociological sensitivity, we locate the notion of populism on a discursive-strategic plain and entirely uncouple it from any assumptions about populist politics being necessarily undertaken by, supported by, or favouring what could be disadvantaged groups in terms of sociological profile or political representation. Thirdly, building on this we develop analytical strategies for the study of the ‘populism of the privileged’, zooming in on the study of ‘the people’, ‘the elite’, the sociological directionality of populism, the layeredness of privilege and un(der)privilege, ‘crisis’ and ‘unmet demands’, and the role of discourses about populism. In conclusion, we reflect on the broader implications of the ‘populism of the privileged’ for the study of populism as well as for discourse theory more broadly.
Period23 Mar 202324 Mar 2023
Event titleDiscourse Theory: Ways Forward 2nd Edition
Event typeConference
LocationBrussels, Belgium
Degree of RecognitionInternational