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Populism, populism(s) in Europe


March 2020
Total hours: 20
Hours of lectures: 20

Examination procedure

  • Report or seminar


Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


Overview of course:


The electoral success of populist parties in Europe is on the rise. From the victory of SYRIZA in the Greek election 2015 to the recent entry of the AfD to the German parliament, the increasing electoral support to these parties has concerned scholars, politicians, journalists, and mass audiences alike. This course aims to provide researchers with basic knowledge of key topics in the scholarly literature on populism, while fostering critical debate on some of the most contested issues surrounding it. It course will revise the more than abundant literature on populism (either left wing or inclusionary populism and right wing/exclusionary version of the phenomenon), focusing on conceptual issues and definitions, on the causes and consequences of the phenomenon as well as on some methods to study populist parties and movements. Indeed attention will be posed on populist parties as well as on populist movements in Europe. During the course we will try to link the theoretical debate with practical implementation through the illustration of concrete case studies and applied research.


Course format:

The course will be divided into seven sessions of 3 hours each. Each session will begin with a presentation by the instructor, followed by a general discussion. Then, there will be time for one student to present one ‘work in progress’ product (e.g. a portion of the PhD project, a paper to be presented to a conference, etc.) authored by him/her on the topic of the course, which will be discussed by the instructor, as well as by the participants attending the session



The assessment of the course is based on: class participation (50%), home assignment (25%), position paper (25%).


Assignment: (1) ‘Meeting the authors’ (last session), prepare a list of 4/5 questions each that you would like to ask to the author; (2) A final ‘position paper’ (of approx.. 1 and half page) is expected by students at the end of the course containing a brief reflection on “How the Populism literature, in terms of concepts, hyps., approaches, etc. can be used for your own research project” (if yes, why and for what; if not why) (date TBA).


Textbook and other Materials:

Reader prepared by the instructor. Papers to be downloaded from SNS’s Website. This course is reading intensive and it is essential that you read all the texts for the session before coming to class.




Session 1: Populism, Populism(s): Definition and conceptual issues



Mudde, C. (2007) Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Introduction.

Kriesi, Hanspeter (2017). ‘Revisiting the populist challenge’, Research paper, Lunch Seminar Series (Nov. 17th), Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence.



Caiani, M., 2012, ‘Populism/populist movements’, in Snow, D., della Porta, D., Klandermans, B., and McAdam D. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 990-4.



Session 2: Populism as a ‘graduational’ property? An example of empirical research



Caiani, M. and Graziano, P. 2016, “Varieties of Populism: Insights from the Italian Case”, in Italian Political Science Review, 46 (2), 243-267.

Marco Lisi and  Enrico Borghetto (2017), Populism, blame shifting and the crisis: communication strategies in Portuguese political parties, paper presented at the SISP conference 2017, University of Urbino


Session 3: Causes of populism: contextual, organizational and attitudinal explanations



Muis, Jasper C., and Tim Immerzeel (2016). ‘Radical Right Populism’, Sociopedia.isa,DOI: 10.1177/2056846016121

Kriesi, Hanspeter (2018). ‘The determinants of the vote for the radical right and the radical left in Western Europe’, paper presented at the EUI Workshop on Populism, 3-4 May 2018, Fiesole.


Rydgren J (2005) Is extreme right wing populism contagious? Explaining the emergence of a new party family. European Journal of Political Research 44(3): 413–437.

Caiani, M., 2017, “Radical Right Wing Movements: Who, When, How and Why?” In Sociopedia, Sociopedia.isa, pp. 1-15.



Session 4: Consequences of populism: is populism good or bad for Democracy?


Mudde C and Rovira Kaltwasser C (eds) (2012) Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy? New York: Cambridge University Press, Introduction and conclusion.

Pirro A (2015) The Populist Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe: Ideology, Impact, and Electoral Performance. London: Routledge, Introduction and conclusion.


Session 5: And Left wing populism?



March, Luke (2017). “Left and right populism compared: The British case”. In: The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 19.2, pp. 282–303.

Graziano , P., Nuria Font, Myrto tsakatika (under review Comparative Politics 2019), Inclusionary Populism beyond Latin America? Evidence from Southern Europe. 



Kenneth Robert (2017), Varieties of Capitalism and Subtypes of Populism: The Structural Foundations of Political Divergence in Northern and Southern Europe, SNS lunch seminar Paper


Ramiro, Luis, and Raul Gomez (2016), ‘Radical Left Populism during the Great Recession: Podemos and its Competition with the Established Radical Left’, Political Studies, 65:1S, 108–126.


Session 6: How to study (right wing) populist parties and movements: frame analysis and social networks



Caiani, M. and Kroel, P. (2017) “Nationalism and Populism in Radical-Right wing discourses in Italy and Germany”. In B. De Cleen and Y. Stavrakakis (eds)  'Javnost - The Public' , Vol.24, No 4, 336-354 Diani, M. (2003), ‘Leaders’ Or Brokers? Positions and Influence in Social Movement Net-works, in Social Movements and Networks Relational Approaches to Collective Action, Edited by Mario Diani and Doug McAdam , ch.5



Snow, D. (2004), “Framing Processes, Ideology and Discoursive Fields”, in Di David A. Snow,Sarah Anne Soule,Hanspeter Kriesi  (eds.), The Blackwell companion to social move-ments, pp.380-412.

Caiani, M., (2014)  “Social Network Analysis”, in della Porta, D. (ed.),  Methodological Practices In Social Movement Research, Oxford University Press, pp. 368-396.



Session 7: ‘Meeting the authors’ (see above)

(potential authors to be invited in person or in Video at the SNS, Prof. Jen Rydgren; March, Luke; Andrea Zavlone; Kenneth Roberts, Paolo Graziano, Cas Mudde, Rovira Katwasser)






Educational Goals

  1. analyze with a comparative approach the various aspects of populism in Europe and beyond
  2. have a broad understanding of the main topics and analytical, substantial and normative puzzles the students can encounter and develop when addressing populism 
  3. have a broad understanding of the main themes  and methods that they  can apply to populism in their own research (e.g. phd thesis, master thesis)
  4. contextually demonstrate awareness and knowledge of the main theoretical (and methodological) approaches to populism in  political and social science   research 
  5.  be aware of the main problems related to the literature on populism   
  6.  apply analytical skills in using theory and case studies to better understand contempo-rary varieties of populism
  7. Improve oral skills and the capacity of team-working
  8. improve writing skills enhancing own chances of academic and professional success
  9. communicate their ideas in a well-organized, well-expressed manner appropriate to the discipline concerned.


Bibliographical references

see the syllabus (since september 2020)