Populism on the Loose in Europe and Beyond

Helsinki Summer School 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindly note that Helsinki Summer School 2021 will not be arranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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:

  • pre-assignment (pass/fail)
  • Learning diary (70%)
  • Participation and group work 30%


City Centre Campus

Preliminary course schedule

Monday, 3 August
Registration (HSS Info Desk) opens

Tuesday, 4 August
Evening: University's Welcome Reception and Opening Party

Wednesday, 5 August
Morning: Introduction to populism (Virpi Salojärvi)
Afternoon: Post-Marxist hegemony theory (Emilia Palonen)

Thursday, 6 August
Morning: Laclaudian performative understanding of populism (Palonen)
Afternoon: Populism and polarization (Laura Sibinescu)

Friday, 7 August
Morning: 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)
Afternoon: Workshop

Monday, 10 August
Morning: Visual and performative aspects of populism (Salojärvi)
Afternoon: Spatial performativity and people in Kosovo (Vulovic)

Tuesday, 11 August
Morning: Populism and emotions, the case of Poland (Ruta Kazlauskaite)
Afternoon: Populism and gender (Tuija Saresma)

Wednesday, 12 August
Morning: Populism and media in Northern Europe (Herkman)
Afternoon: Social Media era and populism in Finland (Niko Hatakka)

Thursday, 13 August
Morning: Celebrity populism and the case of the Czech Republic (Ilana Hartikainen)
Afternoon: Populism and humour (Joonas Koivukoski)

Friday, 14 August
Morning: Post-foundational discourse analysis (Tomas Marttila)
Afternoon: Workshop (Hartikainen)

Monday, 17 August
Morning: The MaunulaHouse: Improper politics (Mark Devenney)
Afternoon: Populism in France (Tuula Vaarakallio)

Tuesday, 18 August
Morning: Lecture by Mark Devenney
Afternoon: Extreme populist polarisation and Islam (Halil Gürhanli)

Wednesday, 19 August
Morning: Mainstream populism and minorities, the case of Trump and US Latinx (Salojärvi&Hartikainen)
Afternoon: Workshop
Evening: Rhetoric-performative city walk

Thursday, 20 August
Morning: Brainstorming session
Afternoon: End of course, summary discussion