This article revisits the vexed relationship between populism and democracy. The article identifies and analyzes a persistent split in the discourse of democracy between the politically fit and unfit, and argues that populism is best seen as effecting a reversal of this ancient binary. Using analytical tools from the strong program in cultural sociology, this binary is theorized as a symbolic code organizing our sense of and sensibilities for the sacred and the profane in democracy, a symbolic code that political science research on populism tends to reproduce rather than explicate. Pursuing this, the article outlines a cultural explanation of populism as well as of shortcomings and blind spots in the latest wave of research on the subject. It argues by example the need to cross over between political, social, and cultural theory in order to better understand populism and democracy and their contentious interrelationship.
American Journal of Cultural Sociology – Springer Journals
Published: Aug 3, 2020