Rethinking Populism: ‘the People’ as a Popular Identity Subject in Bernie Sanders’ Discursive Articulation

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Medier och kommunikation

Abstract: This study explores the articulation of a popular political identity by the US Senator Bernie Sanders and the political coalition he communicates. The analysis part is conducted on two levels: the construction of the populist signifier ‘the people’ and the construction of the antagonist in Sanders’ political communication. The theoretical part is mostly driven by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s perspective in radical democracy, identity construction, collectiveness and the chain of equivalence. By deploying theoretically unprejudiced approach, the thesis shows how a popular identity, namely ‘the People’, emerges, how it is communicated in order to put forward an alternative reading of populism which is hotly-debated subject among scholars and political scientists. Furthermore, the thesis elaborates how the theoretical discussion proposes a way of understanding the collective subject of ‘the People’ which appears as an identifiable and contra- conjectural category. The analysis ascertains that ‘the people’, as a populist subject, emerges as collective citizens demanding equal rights and taking the larger issues of inequality at stake based on inclusive values and positions, rather than as undemocratic, authoritarian, ethnically and culturally homogenizer subjects. Consequently, any subject causing ‘injustice’ becomes the antagonized other who obliges ‘the People’ to experience misery, oppression, and discrimination. The research tackles how Senator Sanders’ political communication brings disperse identities along with the chain of equivalence, how his movement articulates the political front of ‘the People’, and how it signifies the outsider through dichotomizing the political space. The study concludes that Sanders popular articulation provides a critical perspective for us to read populist zeitgeist of the twenty-first century. 

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