Rhetoric-Performative and Post-Foundational Analysis

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.


Master's/PhD level students. Bachelor's degree or previous knowledge of research methods and research practice required.


This course will familiarise the students with a distinct framework to study the relational nature of political meaning-making: rhetoric-performative analysis based on post-foundational political thought. Through this framework the students will be able to critically analyse some of the most pressing questions and phenomena of our era, such as the legitimacy of democracy, the logic of populism, articulations of gender and sexuality, competing forms of economic production and property, and the functioning of identity politics.

Rather than taking political concepts and categorisations at face value, this course suggests that the focus of analysis should shift to the ways in which meaning-making takes place and to the contingency of the concepts, discourses and structures we inhabit.

During the course the students will learn about different forms of post-foundational thinking. They will get to explore the ways in which it can be combined with various research techniques focusing on the relational nature of meaning. The course will introduce the students to the works of authors such as Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jean-Luc Nancy, Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci as central to this approach.

Through in-class discussions, group work, excursions and guest lectures, the course will enable the participants to start using insights from this strand of European continental political philosophy in the study of contemporary political issues. Teaching will be composed of lectures and seminars as well as workshops with researchers at the University of Helsinki.

Building on three previous years’ successful Helsinki Summer School courses on post-foundational political theory and discourse analysis, this year’s course will in part take its cue from the volume Discourse, Culture and Organization (2019, Palgrave Macmillan), edited by Tomas Marttila and with a contribution by Emilia Palonen, both of whom will be teaching on the course.

As in previous years, the course will again invite prominent scholars to teach and comment on the work of the students. As has been noted by the students during and after the previous years' courses, this course provides a unique space for learning, networking and becoming a member of a vibrant international scholarly community.


The course is lead by Dr Emilia Palonen, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, who has been developing a rhetoric-performative approach to Laclaudian discourse theory, having taught it for 14 years at Helsinki. She takes part and leads in Academy of Finland research projects such as the Whirl of Knowledge (WhiKnow) and Mainstreaming Populism (MaPo). The course contents are reflected in Palonen's research interests of us-building and othering, populism and polarisation, spatiality and temporality, politics of memory, and participatory democracy. Conceptual history, radical democracy, and the theory of hegemony are discussed in their origins and reflecting on the social media era.

This year we celebrate the publication of the Populist Manifesto, with some of the authors present, such as Mark Devenney (University of Brighton). We will also invite Tomas Marttila (TU Vienna) and will use as a core text of the course the volume edited by him.

The lecturers come both from the University of Helsinki and abroad. All the teachers will demonstrate through their own research how they have used the Laclaudian and performative, cultural approaches to populism and nationalism, political economy, visual representations, history and memory, as well as democracy and local activism in their work.


The course engages with rhetoric-performative and post-foundational thinking and related perspectives of conceptual analysis, such as post-structural discourse theory, interpretive political analysis and discourse theory. The broader aim is to learn how to use a theoretical approach in research in social and political sciences.

As the outcome of the course, students will learn how to use post-foundational theory in actual research contexts, whether engaging with theoretical or empirical research. The students will be able to establish the differences between these approaches within the field of rhetoric-performative and post-foundational theory, and assess their usefulness in research projects. With the help of teachers and the final project they will also accumulate more in-depth knowledge on their chosen approach and topic of research.


The course combines lectures by leading experts and active learning methods, particularly group work and workshops. The course hosts learning cafés with researchers on particular perspectives and methods. The students are expected to get familiar with relatively demanding texts, and will submit short assignments before and during the course to engage in and facilitate learning. By the end of the course the students will submit a final project demonstrating the use of this methodology.

Supervision is provided in the workshops, the learning cafés and through clinics by key teachers during the final week. During the excursion and the evening out on the third week, the students will also engage with their peers and some of the teachers. Peer learning is encouraged through active learning and social engagement.


Class participation, assignments, final project.
Pass/Fail, unless other grading is required by the student.


City Centre Campus

Preliminary Course Schedule

Wed 5 Aug
Introduction to rhetoric-performative and post-foundational Analysis (Vulovic & Palonen)  
Post-Marxist hegemony theory (Palonen) 

Thu 6 Aug
Laclaudian performative understanding of populism (Palonen) 
Populist Manifesto Workshop 

Fri 7 Aug
The case of Hungary: Populism in Action (Emilia Palonen)
Student introductory presentations 

Mon 10 Aug
Rhetoric and deconstruction 
Spatial performativity and the people in Kosovo (Vulovic)

Tue 11 Aug
Hegemony, memory and politics of contingency with Walter Benjamin (Emilia Palonen)

Wed 12 Aug
Workshop on the Social Media era and populism (Niko Hatakka)
Venezuela and the US (Salojärvi) 

Thu 13 Aug
Conceptual History (Johan Strang) 
Relationality in discourse theory (Marttila)

Fri 14 Aug
Discourse theory operationalized into Post-foundational Analysis (Marttila)  
Workshop on Marttila's work 

Mon 17 Aug
The Maunula House: Improper politics (Mark Devenney) 
Luncheon on participatory planning (Palonen) and improper workshop (Devenney) 

Tue 18 Aug
Lecture by Mark Devenney
Workshop with Vulovic, Palonen, and Devenney 

Wed 19 Aug
Student presentations
Evening: Rhetoric-performative city walk with Emilia Palonen 16–18 plus drinks

Thu 20 Aug
Anti- and post-foundationalism
End of course, summary discussion


  • Mouffe, Chantal. 2005. On the Political. New York: Routledge.
  • Laclau, Ernesto. 2005. On Populist Reason. London: Verso.
  • Marttila, Tomas, ed. 2019. Discourse, Culture and Organization: Inquiries into Relational Structures of Power. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Devenney, Mark. Forthcoming. Towards an Improper Politics.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Eklundh, Emmy, and Andy Knott. 2019. The Populist Manifesto: Understanding the Spectre of Populism. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.