Speaking of Populism

Anne Fønss Bach, Helene Lærke Korsgaard & Pauline Gye Apesland Nissen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis examines qualitatively how winning campaigns in different referendums across three Western countries communicate when trying to convince voters to support their political cause. It investigates the tendencies in winning campaigns use of discursive tools and if certain dynamics can be found across the cases. We use an eclectic approach to turn our academic interest into analytical insights. We use the gaze of second order observations and subscribe to a poststructuralist tradition where we get our theoretical understanding from primarily the discourse theory by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, but also from a more recent field of affective theory represented by the works of Sara Ahmed. Empirically we combine the written word with visual elements such as graphics and videos which we locate on a variety of platforms used by the campaigns such as Facebook and Youtube. We show how the campaigns by the use of articulations try to fixate meaning to the theme of the referendum in question. The study finds that the campaigns paint a discursive picture of a problem in the given society which is made possible due to a dislocation, and they present themselves as the solution to this problem. Specific discourses emerges in this intersection of problem and solutions of the constitutive inside and outside of the discourse. We also discover how the logic of populism intertwines the discourses of the campaigns that shares communicative means such as communicating in equivalence, and mobilizing a collective we in contrast to an excluded them. We shed light on the discursive construction of “a people” by the use of affective theory as we pursue yet another common trade in the campaigns communication. They all share an emotional appeal which is used to attach the population to a specific political project. Populism as an omnipresent logic is the thread running through the three campaigns’ rhetoric. It is thus in light of this concept the paper discusses different viewpoints on populism in order to explore how populism can also be seen as a driving force in democracies.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages156
SupervisorsEmil Husted