Cultural Populism

Cultural Populism

Cultural Populism

Cultural Populism

Synopsis

Cultural Populismfills a huge gap in the study of popular culture by providing the first comprehensive critical assessment of the cultural studies tradition.

Excerpt

This book is intended as a sympathetic critique of cultural populism. Since it may, contrary to my wishes, be read as an unsympathetic critique, the reasons for questioning cultural populism at all need to be signalled clearly from the outset. There is, however, a problem of definition, which must be dealt with first. The term ‘cultural populism’ is frequently used in passing but, to my knowledge, has never really been given a precise definition. A number of writers, whom I regard as cultural populists, use the term loosely to attack other writers with whom they disagree. That is why I choose to define ‘cultural populism’ fairly precisely here and with a comparative neutrality that distinguishes my usage sharply from the main alternative, largely commonsensical and exclusively pejorative usages.

For the purposes of conceptual precision, it is necessary to consider the term ‘populism’ separately from ‘culture’, at least initially, in order to reflect upon the varied meanings of their actual and potential combination. ‘Populism’ is much more commonly used in political discourse than in cultural discourse—however, not with any great precision, but nearly always with negative connotations, usually meaning something like ‘the mobilisation of political majorities around a set of simple and probably disingenuous slogans’, perhaps appealing to ‘the lowest common denominator’. For instance, Margaret Thatcher was called a populist by her opponents and so is Boris Yeltsin. Such politicians are not called populist by their own supporters. The accusation of ‘populism’ implies reckless and unscrupulous demagogy. Direct popular appeal, over the heads of other politicians, is often commented upon as disreputable: making promises that cannot be kept, offering solutions that are

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