Probing into populism's core: an analysis of the deep semio-linguistic structure underlying populism

Carola Schoor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article analyzes populism utilizing the semiotic theory of A.J. Greimas. This structural linguist offers a tool for uncovering links between manifestations of populism and the language structure that makes these manifestations possible in the first place. The (post-)structural analysis in this article brings together different approaches to populism, through revealing one shared underlying structure. This core-structure of populism connects three framings of populism that all come with different populist features. The core structure also sheds light on the dispute regarding whether or not a homogeneous people is integral to populism. The underlying structure precisely depicts the logical steps from individualism to populism that Laclau describes in his definition of populism as an act. Whereas Laclau's definition does not include a homogeneous people, the structure reveals a short-cut to populism, which does comprise a homogeneous people. Hence, the deep structure of language facilitates two versions of populism, one with a homogeneous people, and one with a not-heterogeneous, unified people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-244
Number of pages19
JournalCritical Discourse Studies
Issue number2
Early online dateMay 2020
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2021


  • Populism
  • elitism
  • pluralism
  • Greimas
  • semiotic square

Cite this