Topics in comparative politics: Populism and the radical right in Europe

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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 the course:

The resurgence of strong radical right wing parties and movements constitutes one of the most significant political changes in Europe during the past decades. Similarly populism is booming in national parliaments, in coalitions with mainstream parties or as wildly successful challenges to the political status quo. The two phenomena sometimes overlap, other times not and conceptual and definitional boundaries are necessary. On the one hand, populist parties and movements’ success stems in part from their anti-elitist rhetoric. A major reason for the success of (right wing) populist parties is that they capitalize on voters’ disaffection with existing democratic actors and institutions, but also on economic grievances and cultural perceived threats. Yet these factors vary wildly across Europe. On the other hand, also the radical (nationalist) right’s come back has recently attracted increasing interests from political scientists, sociologists and historians, although the majority of past research focuses on party and electoral politics.

This course not only covers this existing literature but also examines the radical right and populism as ‘social movements’ rather than just political parties. In particular, this course aims to provide researchers with basic knowledge of key topics in the scholarly literature on the radical right and populism, while fostering critical debate on some of the most contested issues surrounding it. It will focuses on conceptual issues and definitions (as well as set the boundaries between the two concepts), on the causes and consequences of these phenomena (i.e. populism and the radical nationalist right) (at the micro, meso and macro level) as well as on some methods to study radical right and populist parties and movements. The new concept of radical right ‘movement-parties’ will be introduced, as a new lens though which address organizational transformations of the (populist) radical right in contemporary democracies as well as the topic of the ‘transnationalization’ of the radical right and its explanations.

During the course we will to address these issues, by linking the current theoretical debates with practical implementation through the illustration of concrete case studies in Europe (and beyond). In particular, in the last session of the course, we will focus on the ongoing COVID pandemic to start assessing its impact on patterns of radical right (and populist) politics, its opportunities and constraints.

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. Students are expected to prepare comments related to the topic of the session and possibly link the theme of the session with their own research projects. The aim is to use the readings to let emerge doubts, questions and comments related to the students’ research projects and research interests (not just a summary of the readings). Students might also bring very practical research dilemma about data gathering and data analysis, linked to the compulsory readings.


The assessment of the course is based on: i. class participation (40%), ii. home assignment (30%), iii. one position paper (30%).

Assignment: (ii.) home assignment:  ‘Meeting the authors’, prepare a list of 4/5 questions that you would like to ask to the author(s) who will be present online in class during the last session (n.7) (the choices of the authors to be invited will be made collectively during the course); (iii.) A final ‘position paper’ (of approx. 1 and half-2 pages) is expected by students at the end of the course containing a brief reflection on “How the Populism/RR literature, in terms of concepts, hypotheses and approaches, can be used for your own research project” (if yes, why and for what; if not why) (date TBA).

* The assignments can be conducted in Italian for the 'allievi del corso ordinario'.

Textbook and other Materials:

Reader prepared by the instructor. Papers to be downloaded from SNS’s Website and sent by the professor by mail before the start of the course to those enrolled to the course. Students are expected to read the compulsory readings before each session. If you have problems in downloading the readings and/or you want to have a look at them before, contact the professor.




Session 1: _ 2th November 2021 (10-13)

Radical Right and populist political parties and movements in Europe: definition and conceptual boundaries

(with Guest Speaker Lenka Bustikova on the radical right and populism in Eastern Europe)



Jens, Rydgren (2018), The Radical Right: An Introduction, The Oxford Handbook of the Radical right, Oxford.

Herbert Kitschelt (2018), Party Systems and Radical Right-Wing Parties, The Oxford Handbook of the Radical right, Oxford.

Jan-Werner Müller. What Is Populism? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, (2016), Introduction and Conclusion.



Odmalm, P., Rydgren, J. Introduction: comparing and reconceptualising the (populist) radical right. Eur Polit Sci 18, 373–378 (2019).

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


 Session 2: 9th Nov.  2021 (10-13)

Causes of the Radical Right: contextual, organizational and individual explanations

(with Guest Speaker Ruth Wodak on nationalism)



Muis, Jasper C., and Tim Immerzeel (2017). ‘Radical Right Populism’, Qualitative Sociology.

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

Tjitske AkkermanSarah L. de LangeMatthijs Rooduijn (2016), Radical Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe Into the Mainstream?,  



Manuela Caiani and Donatella della Porta (2018), The Radical Right as Social Movement Organizations , The Oxford Handbook of the Radical right, Oxford; Introduction.


  Session 3: 16th Nov 2021 (10-13)

 Causes of populism: macro, meso and micro level factors


Spruyt, B., Keppens, G., Van Droogenbroeck, F., (2016), “Who Supports Populism and What Attracts People to It?”, Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 69, N. 2, pp. 335-346

Gidron, N., Hall, P., (2019), “Populism as a Problem of Social Integration”, Comparative Political Studies, pp. 1-33


Pappas, Takis S. 2012. ‘Populism Emergent: A framework for analyzing its contexts, mechanics, and outcomes’. EUI Working Papers, RSCAS 2012/01.


 Session 4: _ 23th Nov 2021 (10-13)

 The consequences of the (populist) radical right: politics, polity, policies

(with Guest Speaker Muis Jasper)


Herman and Muldoon (2018), Trumping the Mainstream: The Conquest of Democratic Politics by the Populist Radical Right, Routledge (chapter 1 and conclusion)

Michelle Hale Williams (2018), The Political Impact of the Radical Right, The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right,in Jens, Rydgren Ed., The Radical Right: An Introduction, The Oxford Handbook of the Radical right, Oxford.


Session 5: 29th Nov. 2021 (10-13)

Radical right and populist ‘Movement-parties’: a new type of organization?

(with Guest Speaker Paris Aslanidis on populism as a collective action frame and political identification)


Manuela Caiani and Ondrej (eds.), 2018, Radical Right ‘movements- parties’, Routledge, ch1, ch2  and Conclusion.


Andrea L. P. Pirro and Pietro Castelli Gattinara (2018) Movement Parties of the Far Right: the organization and strategies of nativist collective actors. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: September 2018, Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 367-383.


Session 6: 3th December 2021 (10-13)

The transnationalization of the radical right

(with Guest Speaker: Manès Weisskircher)



Manuela Caiani (2018), Radical Right Cross-National Links and International CooperationThe Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right

LE Berntzen, M Weisskircher (2016) Anti-Islamic PEGIDA Beyond Germany: Explaining Differences in Mobilisation, Journal of Intercultural Studies 37 (6), 556-573

 Additional reading:

Caiani , M. and P. Kroel, (2014), “A Transnational Extreme Right? New Right-Wing Tactics and the Use of the Internet”, International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 39(3), pp.1-21.


Session 7: 6th Dec. 2021 (10-13)

 How to study the radical right (and populism): Interviews with radicals + ‘Meeting the Authors’

 (Potential authors to be invited in Video at the SNS, Profs. Jen Rydgren; Lenka Bustikova, Hans Peter Kriesi)



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

 Kandermans, B. and N. Mayer (2005), Extreme right activists in Europe: Through the magnifying glass, Introduction and conclusion.



Klein, O., & Muis, J. (2018). Online discontent: comparing Western European far-right groups on Facebook. European Societies, 1-23. 





Obiettivi formativi

- Enhance critical skills in reflecting about the usability of concepts and their definition/boundaries

- improve students ability to link theoretical debates to practical issues of social research

- improve students capacity to discuss collectively comparative research problems and questions and research design solutions

-foster the critical imagination of students for a better refinement of their project research questions in a comparative fashion

- improve the communicative skills of students    

Riferimenti bibliografici

see the schedule of the course