Laboratoire BABEL

EA 2649
Langages, littératures, civilisations et sociétés

International Conference. 14th and 15th June 2018. « The populist contagion in Europe and the United States » by Karine Tournier-Sol, Marie Gayte and Gilles Leydier

Populism is traditionally considered as a vague and elusive concept, its heterogeneity making it difficult to define. The main common denominator of populist parties is to oppose the people to the elite, perceived as two homogeneous and antagonistic groups (Mudde, 2004). The populist discourse offers a dualist view of the world, and is characterized by an appeal to the people, “inevitably mythical, ideal or imaginary » (Reynié, 2013), and which Taggart refers to as the « heartland”.

Although populism first appeared in the 19th century in Russia, France and the United States, this conference focuses on the contemporary populist phenomenon which has emerged in Europe in the early 1990s.

Recent events suggest that the populist temptation within the electorate has significantly increased, as shown in France by the qualification of the Front National for the second round of the presidential election, and the historic score achieved by the party. Marine Le Pen had presented this election as the third act of the “awakening of the people”, following the surprise victory of the Brexit vote in the 23 June 2016 referendum and the equally unexpected election of Donald Trump as US president on 8 November 2016. Throughout Europe, populist parties have gained ground in countries such as Italy, The Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, the UK, Denmark … Although Emmanuel Macron’s victory, coming after the first populists’ setbacks in Austria and the Netherlands, appeared to put a halt to what looks like a new populist wave, it is important to remain cautious.

Should this be regarded as a coincidence or as a global phenomenon? This conference aims at exploring this new populist wave, trying to identify the common points, as well as the differences, between its various manifestations. What are the similarities between left-wing and right-wing populism?

This populist contagion also applies to traditional political parties, some of which might be tempted to adopt a populist rhetoric: by what means and with what results ? More generally, how do these parties address the populist threat?

Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:


  • Case studies : right-wing and left-wing populist parties / events interpreted as demonstrating a rise of populism (Brexit vote, election of Trump …)
  • Traditional themes of populist parties (immigration, euroscepticism, rejection of the elite …)
  • Comparison between populist parties
  • Populism and leadership
  • Analysis of the populist rhetoric
  • Impact of populist parties on the political debate and on the mainstream discourse
  • The adoption of a populist style by some leaders of traditional political parties
  • How do traditional parties address the populist threat ?
  • First halts to the populist wave : meaning and prospects