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Organising populism: from symbolic power to symbolic violence

Kerr, Ron and Robinson, Sarah and Śliwa, Martyna (2022) 'Organising populism: from symbolic power to symbolic violence.', Human Relations .


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) organising 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.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This contribution has been accepted for publication in Human Relations.
Date accepted:09 September 2022
Date deposited:13 September 2022
Date of first online publication:No date available
Date first made open access:13 September 2022

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