Populism on the Loose in Europe and Beyond



This course examines populism from both theoretical and empirical perspectives, critically engaging with the most prevalent understandings of the term and encouraging students to think of its representations in a new light. Advanced Bachelor’s level, Master’s level or early-career PhD students of social sciences are warmly invited to take this course.


While much of the study of present-day populism has focused on identifying features shared by populist movements or on populism as a social logic, this course looks at the variability and intersectionality of populism in a perspective inspired by the political philosopher Ernesto Laclau.

First, populist phenomena vary according to cultural context. Second, populism gets entangled with such dimensions as gender, class, religion and space. And third, the very concept of populism tends to get loose to the extent of justifying the term of a ‘floating signifier’, familiar from Laclau’s approach to populism.

The course offers lectures, workshops and excursions to examine such phenomena as the role of affect or women in populist movements, the emergence of Donald Trump in the US, the rising tide of radical parties in Europe, Islamic populism in Turkey, and the rise and fall of Chavismo in Venezuela.


  • Responsible faculty member: Professor Juha Herkman, University of Helsinki
  • Responsible teacher: Postdoctoral researcher Virpi Salojärvi, University of Helsinki
  • Lecturers: Halil Gürhanli, Emilia Palonen, Juha Herkman, Laura Sibinescu, Ruta Kazlauskaite, Joonas Koivukoski, Ilana Hartikainen

Tentative teachers outside of UH:

  • Mark Devenney (University of Brighton)
  • Tomas Marttila (University of Vienna)
  • Tuija Saresma (University of Jyväskylä)
  • Tuula Vaarakallio (University of Jyväskylä)
  • Niko Hatakka (University of Turku)


On completing this course, students will have a good understanding of different cultural, historical and political contexts of populism and its relationship to democratic governance. Hence they will also be able to discuss and judge the basis of populism from the perspective of Ernesto Laclau’s theory by taking into account different political and media environments. They will have a clear idea of what populism is and is not in today’s politics, and what consequences this has for politics and citizens in a democratic society.


The course is built around lectures, course readings, workshops and group work led by Finnish and international scholars. Students are asked to read an article/book chapter for each lecture and to write a learning diary based on the texts and lectures.

Field trip: Populism and space, a walk with Emilia Palonen in Helsinki to examine spatial dimensions of populism.


Grading scale: 1 to 5, assessed on the following basis:

  • Class participation (20%)
  • Group assignments (40%)
  • Learning diary (40%)


City Centre Campus

Preliminary course schedule

August 2020
5 Introduction to populism and hegemony (Virpi Salojärvi & Halil Gürhanli)
6 Democracy and important concepts of Laclaudian theory of populism (Halil Gürhanli)
7 Post-foundational discourse analysis (Tomas Marttila) & Workshop
10 Populism and media in Northern Europe (Niko Hatakka & Juha Herkman)
11 Ten theses on populism: the case of Hungary (Emilia Palonen) / Radical populism in Latin America and the rise and fall of Chavismo in Venezuela (Virpi Salojärvi)
12 Performativity and becoming the people (Marina Vulovic & Virpi Salojärvi) & a walk of spatial dimensions of populism (Emilia Palonen)
13 Improper politics (Mark Devenney) & Populism and democracy in Romania (Laura Sibinescu)
14 Celebrity populism and the case of the Czech Republic (Ilana Hartikainen) & Populism and humour (Joonas Koivukoski)
17 Populism and gender (Tuija Saresma) & Populism and emotions, the case of Poland (Ruta Kazlauskaite)
18 Extreme populist polarisation and Islam (Halil Gürhanli) & Mainstream populism and minorities, the case of Trump and US Latinx (Virpi Salojärvi)
19 Populism in France (Tuula Vaarakallio) & Workshop
20 Brainstorming session and summary