Organising populism: From symbolic power to symbolic violence

Ron Kerr, Sarah Robinson, Martyna Sliwa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper contributes to developing a management and organisation studies perspective on political organising by focusing on a) populism; b) the exercise of political power; and c) the organisation of politics. We address two questions: In what ways have English populist politicians in the 20th and 21st century utilised language along with other aspects of campaign organising to build and enhance their symbolic power? And: How do populist political organisations convert symbolic power into symbolic violence? Drawing on a range of concepts from Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology, most specifically his work on symbolic power, symbolic violence, political ontology, and the performativity of language, we conduct a comparative analysis of texts from four waves of right-wing English populism culminating in Brexit. We develop a three-step framework to explain the organisation of right-wing populism via what we term populist political methodology: 1) establishing the symbolic power of the leader and the message; 2) organisational power and the division of labour of domination; 3) reinforcing symbolic violence in targeted sections of society. Understanding how populist politics is organised can support us in resisting, challenging and disrupting right-wing populism, providing lessons for organisations campaigning against racism and xenophobia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-110
Number of pages29
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number1
Early online date19 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Bourdieu
  • Brexit
  • organisational power
  • performativity
  • populism
  • populist political methodology
  • political ontology
  • symbolic power
  • symbolic violence


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