Populist Counterpublics: Exploring Populist Mobilization, Crises of Representation, and Popular Subjectivities in Canadian Politics

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Sanscartier, Matthew Daniel




The concept of "populism" presents a unique conundrum in academia and popular discourse. Despite the universal acknowledgement that it has an increasing presence in global politics, there is little to no agreement on what populism is, how it should be defined, or what concepts should be used to make sense of how it works. In the face of this conundrum, theorizing of populism amongst sociologists and political scientists has been become formulaic and repetitive. First, the standard is to formulate a conceptual map of what populism is, definitionally speaking. Second, that map is then applied to various jurisdictions with elected populist politicians. The result is that field of populism studies is loaded with essentialized, context-independent theories that impose on the unique features of each case and are not flexible enough to capture how populism may manifest as different "species" of a wider political "genus". This dissertation resolves these core issues by introducing the interpretivist concept of "populist counterpublics," which identifies populism as a fundamentally context-dependent phenomenon. Populist counterpublics understand how a specific kind of populism operates in-situ and from the perspective of social actors by analyzing (1) the political logic identifying some representational crisis in a given democracy, and (2) the popular subject-position forged to create a shared, viscerally-felt lack among diverse individuals. Illustrating its utility through five empirical case studies, I argue that the concept of populist counterpublics is a way forward, through the conceptual battle-zone currently plaguing the field. It does so by shifting focus to the subjective aspects of subordination that populists claim to fix, encouraging the suspension of moral judgement in analyzing cases, and attunes us to the unique features of the diverse contexts in which populisms operate.


Canadian Studies
Sociology - Organizational




Carleton University

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