SOSS- Politics and International Relations Series on Political Alienation

Date/Time: Wed 24 May / 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Location: Building 11, Level 4, Room N402

Populism: Democracy’s Pharmakon?

Presented by  Professor Simon Tormey

2016 was undoubtedly the year populism went mainstream.  The emergence of Corbyn, the Brexit vote, the election of Trump, Duterte, the success of the Five Star Movement all point to a shift away from the familiar left-right politics towards an insider/outsider dynamic of the “demos” against the elites. In this sense populism is consonant with democracy. However commentary is full of worry about the populist turn, seeing it as potentially threatening democratic life. So we are confronted with a seeming paradox: movements that arise out of democracy claiming to represent the demos being regarded as dangerous to democracy.  Hence the reference to the Pharmakon – the “medicine” that kills, or the toxic substance that cures…?  Progressives are caught in a curious bind – can we be populist too, or are we condemned to remaining outside the inside/outside dichotomy, and per haps politically irrelevant?  Based on fieldwork in Spain since #15M this paper seeks to highlight the issues at stake but also points to the need for a more nuanced approach to populism suggesting the need for a greater sense of the context in which populisms arise and also the need to distinguish between and amongst populisms. 

Simon Tormey is currently Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney. He has wide interests across politics, critical theory, philosophy and history. He is the author of numerous books and articles including Making Sense of Tyranny: Interpretations of Totalitarianism (Manchester University Press, 1995), Politics at the Edge (co-edited with C Pierson) Agnes Heller: Socialism, Autonomy and the Postmodern (Manchester University Press, 2001), Anti-Capitalism (Oxford: Oneworld, 2004, revised edition 2013), and Key Thinkers from Critical Theory to Post-Marxism (London: Sage, 2006). His most recent books are The End of Representative Politics (Cambridge: Polity, 2015) and The Refiguring of Democracy (London: Routledge, 2017).

For further information, please contact
Paul Muldoon

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