Populism, populism(s) in Europe

Anno accademico 2020/2021
Docente Manuela Caiani

Didattica integrativa


Examination procedure

Relazione di seminario


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:


Populism is booming, left, right, and at the center of national parliaments, in coalitions with mainstream parties or as wildly successful challenges to the political status quo. Populist parties and movements’ success stems in part from their anti-elitist rhetoric. A major reason for the success of 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 factor varies wildly across Europe. Finally, what happens when populists are elected into the establishment they claim to oppose? Although in the last two decades several studies have focussed on the broad family of the populist parties, the empirical research is still mainly looking at the causes and/or definitional aspects of the phenomenon, neglecting the other side of the coin: the consequences on several political domains. Two relevant Oxford handbooks have been published on populism (Rovira Kaltwasser et al. 2017; Rydgren 2018) with 68 chapters between them. One is about impact.

This course addresses these issues, aiming at providing 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 will revise the more than abundant literature on populism (either left wing or inclusionary populism and right wing/exclusionary version of the phenomenon), in Western and Eastern Europe, 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, in a comparative perspective. During the course we will 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 and related to the topic of the course. The aim is to use the readings to let emerge doubts, questions and comments related to the topic and the students’ research projects (not just a summary of the readings). Students might also bring very practical research dilemma about data gathering and data analysis in comparative politics when dealing with populism. 



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: March 2 , 2021 (10-13AM)

Populism, Populism(s): Definition and conceptual issues



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

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

Odmalm, P., Rydgren, J. Introduction: comparing and reconceptualising the (populist) radical right. Eur Polit Sci 18, 373–378 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-018-0158-7

C. de la Torre, Routledge Handbook of Global Populism, Routledge, Abingdon-New York 2018



 (In Italian) R. Biorcio, Il populismo nella politica italiana. Da Bossi a Berlusconi, da Grillo a Renzi, Mimesis, Milano 2015

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: March 3th , 2021 (10-13AM)

Populism as a ‘gradational’ 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



Moffitt, Benjamin and Simon Tormey. 2013. ‘Rethinking Populism: Politics, Mediatisation and Political Style’, Political Studies.


Session 3: March 5th, 2021 (10-13AM)

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.

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



(on the meso level) 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: March 8th , 2021 (10-13AM)

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: March 9th , 2021 (10-13AM)

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.

Font, N., Graziano, P., & Tsakatika, M. (2019). Varieties of Inclusionary Populism? SYRIZA, Podemos and the Five Star Movement. <i>Government and Opposition,</i> 1-21. doi:10.1017/gov.2019.17



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: March 10th , 2021 (10-13AM)

How to study 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


Session 7: March 11th , 2021 (10-12)

‘Meeting the authors’

Potential authors to be invited in person or in Video at the SNS, Prof. Jen Rydgren; March, Luke; Andrea Zavlone; Kenneth Roberts, Paolo Graziano…), more ideasJ?

Bibliographical references

see the syllabus (since september 2020)