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Volume 37, 2020

Populism and Globalization

Simon Tormey
Pages 77-98

No Going Back?
Late Modernity and the Populisation of Politics

This paper takes up the challenge posed in recent commentary concerning the nature or ontology of populism. I suggest that we need to take a sociological approach that seeks to locate populism within the wider processes and tendencies associated with late modernity in order to fully capture not only what populism is, but also why we are seeing a greater prevalence of populism around the world. I locate populism in relation to fve dominant tendencies: The decline of traditional authority structures; the rise of individualisation; the growth of bureaucracy and complexifcation; the intensifcation of globalisation and the emergence of a new media ecology. These processes together are creating enormous strains on representative democracy, lead­ing to “democratic grievance”. Those who are represented become uncoupled from their own representatives, leaving a vacuum which is increasingly flled by populist initiatives. Populism thus needs to be read as a symptom of an intensifying crisis of democracy, as much as a cause of it.