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Family Differences Among European Populist Parties: An Analysis of Discursive Structure and Ideological Strategies in Podemos and the National Front

Michael De La Caridad Ledezma

The concept of populism is famously ambiguous, posing difficulties in its application as an analytical category and empirical identifier. Much of the existing literature has focused on defining populism as either an ideology, a strategy or as a rhetorical style, while failing to account for formal differences across the left-right ideological scale. Where typological definition has been undertaken, it has mostly been limited to describing parties exclusively subsumable under the same ideological category. One way to address this lacuna is by following Ernesto Laclau's shift in emphasis toward exposing the internal logic of populism as such. This discourse-centered approach enables us to locate the properly populist structural features of political rhetoric to bring into relief the distinct ideological component. In this paper, I provide a detailed case-study analysis of the National Front in France and Podemos in Spain, using a most different case comparative method. Drawing on close readings of party manifestos, speeches and interviews, my analysis applies Laclau's three categories of signifier manipulation, identity consolidation through articulating demands and the people-antagonist distinction, in combination with Peter Worsley's participatory scale, in order to describe the ways in which ideology shapes particular manifestations of populist rhetoric. I conclude that while populism provides an invariant, underlying rhetorical structure, ideological differences substantially alter particular policy content. Among others, my findings show that where both parties ostensibly champion democracy, the concrete proposals put forward toward this end evince a diametric opposition along Worsley's scale by presenting different meanings to participation.

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