The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic

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Cento Bull’s paper takes as its starting point Ernesto Laclau’s and Chantal Mouffe’s conceptualization of populism as counter-hegemonic, and argues, with reference to the Italian case, that populism not only takes the form of a rejection of the establishment and political elites, but also entails a construction of ‘the people’ that requires, as well as the development of empty signifiers as shown by Laclau, also the deployment of common myths based on a collective memory of an imagined past. Cento Bull therefore argues, in line with Ritchie Savage, that the role of memory in populist discourse has been underestimated. Specifically, many populist movements and leaders engage in a fundamental redefinition of who constitutes ‘the people’ accompanied by mistrust and demonization of the Other, which is predicated upon (and justified with recourse to) a reimagining of the nation’s and/or democracy’s ‘founding moment’. Furthermore, many populist movements make use of a political rhetoric revolving around the ‘anti-subversive impulse’ and aimed at instilling fear and a sense of being under threat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-231
Number of pages19
JournalPatterns of Prejudice
Issue number3
Early online date12 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2016


  • Antagonism
  • Collective memory
  • Forza Italia
  • Italia dei Valori
  • Italian Second Republic
  • Lega Nord
  • Populism


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