Dr. Francisco Panizza, a Senior Lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science, argues that Latin America’s political elite have used Populism to appeal to historically under-served and excluded communities. In his presentation at New York University on October 12, Panizza asserted that the term Populism has been over-used, has both positive and negative connotations, and has even become an insult in some circles.
Panizza defined Populism as the creation of a unified and unifying identity, incorporating a previously oppressed or marginalized group of people into a participatory democracy. He went on to detail four dimensions of Populism that leaders may employ as part of a political strategy, including the rhetorical, the representational, the normative and the political. Panizza describes the rhetorical and representational dimensions as what we most often see in contemporary Populist Latin American leaders, where modes of speech, dress and behaviors give the impression of the Populist leader as a demagogical figure. The normative and political dimensions are used to appeal to dissatisfied citizens who have experienced a fundamental inequity in society and are seeking a way to participate in democracy.
Panizza went on to describe how different leaders can use different combinations of these dimensions to attain their political goals. Presidents Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez have adopted the rhetorical and representational dimensions, but it’s questionable if the normative and political areas of their strategies can really be considered Populist according to this model. Arguably, their strategies in the latter areas are examples of what is often described as an abusive form of Populism.
Questions at the end of the talk addressed how people have also referred to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as being Populist less for his use of the rhetorical and representational dimensions and more for his building of alliances between disparate groups to create a politically unified whole. Panizza’s talk provided a fascinating methodology for examining Populism and understanding its pliability.
Additional questions at the end of the talk centered around the dimensions he suggested and how they explain views on Populism in Latin America countries—that these dimensions provide leaders with a way to adapt Populism to their political strategy and create broad appeal in different contexts. This pliability also seems to explain why the term Populism often has negative connotations—because it has different meanings to different people and applies to a variety of movements, leaders and strategies.
Posted by Cristal Downing – MA Candidate at CLACS