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 or Master’s level 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, seminars 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: E.g. Halil Gürhanli, Emilia Palonen, Juha Herkman

Tentative teachers outside of UH:
Mark Devenney (University of Brighton)
Emmy Eklundh (King’s College London)
Niko Hatakka (University of Turku)
Tuija Saresma (University of Jyväskylä)
Tuula Vaarakallio (University of Jyväskylä)


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 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 works that are led by Finnish and international scholars. Students are asked to read an article/book chapter for each course day 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

The working hours will mostly be between 10–12 and 13–15. On some days there will be an additional afternoon programme. Some of the lectures are given together with the course on Rhetoric-Performative and Post-Foundational Analysis. Also, the students are encouraged to participate in a seminar arranged by the Mainstreaming populism consortium during the course.

Preliminary Schedule

Preliminary course schedule pdf


To be updated