To be or not to be a populist. An analysis of how populism is (re-)signified on social media
Contemporary studies of populism have focused on what characterises populist discourse and the socio-political factors leading to the rise of such kind of discourses (Moffitt, 2016; Mudde, 2007) . While many studies have looked at the discursive construction of “populism” and “anti-populism” (Brown & Mondon, 2021; De Cleen et al., 2018) , seldom have these studies relied on linguistics to explain the ubiquitous use of the term “populism”. While some study can be found on derogatory uses of the term “populist”, to our knowledge there is no study explaining how this “anti-populism” trend is linguistically created or how this feeling is recontextualised by users who might have been accused of being populists.
Thus, this paper shifts the focus from how politicians – or people in power – may use this term to how individuals construe it, when negating or contesting being or acting like populists. To do so, we have analysed a corpus of tweets posted during the year 2019 and which include the clause “I am not populist” (or variants of it) in four different languages: Spanish, English, French and Dutch. The analysis of the corpus intends to answer two research questions: i. explaining how the meaning of the term “populism” is recontextualised and negotiated in social media, and ii. explaining how the meaning of the term “populism” relates to the individual’s subjective positioning in social media and how that relates to the activation of particular interpretive frames in different contexts.
Following previous studies on how the structure “I am X” is used on social media (De Cock & Pizarro Pedraza, 2018; Pizarro Pedraza & De Cock,2018) , the analysis is performed on two levels. On the one hand, content analysis is done for quantifying the worldviews twitter users align or misalign with when neglecting their identity as populists. On the other hand, a systematic study has been done of the different forms that are used when using negation in these tweets. These include an explanation of the conversational function of the tweet (Body et al. 2010), the position of negation in the tweet and the kind of relations that are established between the different clauses surrounding it. The double-layered analysis can thus not only help us explain discursive uses of “populism”, but also how negation contributes to creating representational meaning and to building interpersonal relations (Hengeveld & Mackenzie 2018). Finally, we will point out language-specific features of the use of “I am not populist”, both in terms of quantity and quality.