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Pop-Up course: The Populist Challenge

October 13, 14, 15, 2021


Andrej Zaslove (course coordinator), Radboud University
Koen Damhuis, University of Utrecht
Robert Huber, University of Salzburg
Leonie de Jonge, Groningen University
Maurits Meijers, Radboud University
Saskia Lovell-Ruth, Radboud University

Course fees

  • Free for NIG members
  • 500,- for non-members from an NIG member institution
  • 750,- for third parties

Populism has become one of the most important political concepts of our times. Mark Rutte even proclaimed during the 2017 Dutch elections that he was a good populist. This raises several important questions: what do we specifically mean when talking about populism? Is populism something new? Is populism likely to continue to be successful in the coming years? Moreover, what are the implications of populism for democracy and public policy? Do populist parties represent a threat to democracy, and do populists have an tangible impact on public policy?

This course will seek to present answers to these questions by focusing on the rise of populism and populist parties. The course consists of six sessions. Four sessions are dedicated to the theoretical and empirical analysis of populism, and two sessions are dedicated to practical issues concerning populism, science and the public debate surrounding populism in the media.

The first of the four theoretical and empirical sessions, focuses on the question of how to define populism. This session addressed the three most important approaches to populism: the ideational, strategic, and the style approaches. The instructor will address conceptual issues regarding populism with examples from Europe and Latin America. The afternoon session will focus on the causes of populism. The session will address long-term causes for the rise of populism, while it will also examine why individuals support populist parties.

The Thursday and Friday sessions examine the consequences of populism, focusing on the relationship between populism and democracy and populism and climate change. Populism is seen by some as a threat to democracy, while others view populism as a potential for democratic renewal. This session will focus on populist conceptualizations of democracy and it will discuss on the degree to which populism should be viewed as a threat or a corrective for democracy. The Friday session on populism and climate change will examine how populist parties can effect public policy. This session with use climate policy as a means to uncover the various means in which populist parties can influence public policy.

In addition to these four theoretical and empirical sessions, two sessions address the question of how to deal with populists in the public sphere.  One session addresses the question of interviewing populists and a second session deals with the question of populists in the media.

As a PhD candidate this course will provide you with a clear understanding of what populism is, why it has emerged as such an important political phenomenon in the last years, and the implications of populism for democracy and public policy will be assessed. Through our discussions of populism, students will also gain new insights into thinking about concepts and concept formation, into changing social, economic and political dynamics within contemporary societies, and they will be encouraged to think critically about the changing nature of the current state of democracy and public policy. The course will approach these issues both scientifically and practically, i.e. focusing on the question of populism in the public sphere.

The course goals are as follows:

  • To provide a clear idea of what populism is, and what populism is not
  • To address the causes of populism
  • To provide criteria for determining which parties are populist and which parties are not populist
  • To examine the link between populism and public policy
  • To examine the link between populism, science and the role of populism in the public sphere

Course Schedule





Moring Session

Conceptualizing Populism (Saskia Lovell-Ruth)

Populism and Democracy (Maurits Meijers)

Populism, Public Policy, and the Environment (Rober Huber)

Afternoon Session

The Causes of Populism (Andrej Zaslove)

Interviewing Populists (Koen Damhuis)

Populism and the Media (Leoni de Jonge)


Readings for the course will be announced. Students will have 1-2 days preparation time necessary.


Student will be required to write a paper on a topic of their choice