My main area of research is comparative politics. I have been studying contemporary populist forces in Europe, Latin America, and the US over the last few years. In particular, I am interested in showing that populist actors are posing legitimate questions about the current state of democracy, although their solutions are more controversial than helpful. I have been pursuing this research agenda on populism independently as well as in collaboration with colleagues working in different parts of the world. At the same time, I am also working on other topics, such as right-wing parties and forces in Latin America and the impact of the Great Recession on European politics. In the following, I give a brief overview of the subjects that I seek to address in the coming years:
Given that Latin America has experienced a turn to the Left in the last decade, there are almost no studies of the Right in contemporary Latin America. To address this research gap, I organized with my colleague Juan Pablo Luna (Catholic University of Chile) an academic workshop at the Social Science Research Center Berlin in 2011, which was financed by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. We prepared a framework for analysis for the workshop and invited key scholars in the field, who employed our framework to write their contributions. The main output of this workshop is an edited volume that will be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press next year. Moreover, I am interested in continuing my research on this topic, particularly when it comes to analyzing the electoral strategies that right-of-centre forces are developing in contemporary Latin America to counter the electoral supremacy of the Left.
Although there is growing research interest in populist radical right parties in Western Europe, little attention has been paid to countries where these parties are almost non-existent or irrelevant from an electoral and political point of view. With my friend and colleague Sonia Alonso (Social Science Research Center Berlin), we are working on a paper that aims to fill part of this research gap by analyzing the Spanish case in detail. We are interested in showing that in contemporary Spain there is a real demand for populist radical right parties, but supply-side factors are impeding their electoral breakthrough and persistence. Our central argument is that Spain has a particular cleavage structure characterized by the difficult coexistence of regional and state nationalisms, which hinder the electoral appeal of parties that rely on nativist interpretations of “we, the people”.
Although there are strong parallels between the economic crisis that Europe is facing today and the one that Latin America experienced during the 1980s and 1990s, there have been few scholarly comparative efforts. There is, however, a vast body of literature on the impact that not only the debt crisis of the 1980s but also the free market reforms of the 1990s have had on the political systems across the Latin American region. To what extent can this scholarship help us to shed light on contemporary Europe and the political future of those nations that are most affected by the current crisis? With the aim of addressing this question, I am working on a paper that underscores the analytical value of certain arguments advanced in the Latin American context when it comes to trying to understand the ways in which the Great Recession is affecting and might transform the political system of European countries.
Much of my work on the ambivalent relationship between populism and democracy has been written in collaboration with my friend and colleague Cas Mudde (University of Georgia). At the moment, we are working on a new paper, in which we develop a novel theoretical approach to better understand the ways in which populism has an impact on different stages of the process of both democratization and de-democratization. Moreover, we also link our theoretical framework to some of the key debates in the democratization literature, i.e. on the importance of the (1) type of authoritarian regime; (2) mode of transition; (3) system of government; and (4) external influences.
Recent research has tried to measure the populist discourse. In this regard, the approach advanced by Kirk Hawkins (Brigham Young University) is particularly interesting, since he has developed a specific methodology for measuring populism through the speeches of chief executives in Latin America. Based on his own research, we are working on a paper that relies on two datasets: a contemporary one measuring the discourse of all Latin American chief executive between 2006 and 2011, and a historical one measuring the discourse of Argentine, Chilean and Peruvian presidents across the 20th century. Moreover, we have included a set of items to measure populism at the mass level in a survey in Chile conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and we will use this data to write a paper for the 2014 conference of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).
Many authors have maintained that populism is ‘hostile to representative politics’, constitutes ‘pseudo-representation’, and should be conceived of as a ‘perverse inversion of the ideals and procedures of representative democracy’. While it is true that populist forces usually are at odds with the political establishment as well as unelected bodies, they are not against representation per, but rather want to see their own representatives in power. Put in another way, it is flawed to suppose that populists misrepresent the people – whether one likes it or not, they do represent certain constituencies. In order to gain new insights about the complex relationship between populism and political representation, I am working on a paper that takes into account new theoretical discussions on the concept of representation. Relying on this body of literature, I am interested in developing an original theoretical approach, which should permit us to grasp that populist forces foster a particular mode of political representation.
Up to now the academic discussion has been centred on the ambivalent relationship between populism and (liberal) democracy, but little has been said about the way in which actors and institutions cope with the coming into power of populist forces. To address this research gap, I am working with Paul Taggart (University of Sussex) on a special issue for a journal that will be focused on the question of how to deal with populists-in-power. Six scholars specializing in three regions (Eastern Europe, Latin America and Western Europe) have confirmed their participation in this project and we are developing a theoretical framework that will be employed by the contributors. Our aim is to publish this special issue in 2015.
Thanks to the support of the British Academy, I am working with Paul Taggart (University of Sussex) and Pierre Ostiguy (Catholic University of Chile) in the production of the “Handbook of Populism”, which will include a section on the concept of populism, a section on populism in different sub-regions of the world, and a section on theoretical debates related to populism. We have organized the first workshop on the concept of populism, in which three scholars (Cas Mudde, Pierre Ostiguy and Kurt Weyland) presented their conceptual approaches. At the moment we are organising the second workshop, which will be held in Santiago de Chile in July 2014 and key scholars have confirmed their participation. The third and last workshop will be about theoretical debates related to populism and it will take place in Brighton in 2015.