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An etic approach to populism: studying the notion from its vernacular and public use

Updated: Feb 16, 2022



Recommended reading: Hamo, M., Kampf, Z., & Weiss-Yaniv, N. (2018). Populism as a keyword and as a meta-discursive resource for positioning in mediated political discourse. Discourse, Context & Media, 29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2018.11.005

 

For decades, scholarship has developed a wide range of theories aiming at conceptualizing populism as a strategy, as a discursive style or as an ideology, among others. However, as the authors of the article we recommend today highlight, “in spite of the overwhelming attention populism gets in recent years, there are still several shortcomings in the literature”. They focus on two of these shortcomings. The first one is “the underrepresentation of a discursive approach to populism”, especially in comparison to the broad attention other approaches have received. The second – and the one we would like to emphasize – refers to the epistemological perspective usually adopted for studying populism.


Up to now most research on populism has been developed on the basis of an etic perspective. This means that scholars have focused on defining, describing and explaining from an external point of view phenomena linked to populism in order to provide answers to two major questions: “what is populism?” and “who is populist?”. It is therefore a way of conducting research in which scholars look at the object studied from an outsider position. However, this common approach for studying populism is partial, as it shadows the uses made by individuals. As the authors argue, “while there are diversified academic conceptualizations of the term, its vernacular and public uses were hardly studied”.


In order to fill this gap and enlarge the approaches available, this article proposes an original emic perspective that allows to address the way in which the meanings of the notion are constructed and negotiated by the actors who use it in public discourse. As the authors suggest, this approach “underscores the evaluative layer of the concept of 'populism' and reveals the salience and rhetorical sophistication of populism as a keyword and a resource for positioning in contemporary political discourse”. Additionally, though this paper focuses on a specific case study – Israeli mediated political discourse between 2012 and 2017 –, it represents an important contribution to the study of populism, as the methodology employed is applicable to other contexts and can also be used for conductive comparative analysis.


In conclusion, this article contributes to the study of populism in the measure that it tackles the issue from an emic perspective, allowing thus to study it from a new point of view, one that focuses on its vernacular and public meanings.

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