The Neopopular Bubble: Speculating on "the People" in Late Modern Democracy

The Neopopular Bubble: Speculating on "the People" in Late Modern Democracy

The Neopopular Bubble: Speculating on "the People" in Late Modern Democracy

The Neopopular Bubble: Speculating on "the People" in Late Modern Democracy


The common critique of media- and ratings-driven politics envisions democracy falling hostage to a popularity contest. By contrast, the following book reconceives politics as a speculative Keynesian beauty contest that alienates itself from the popular audience it ceaselessly targets. Political actors unknowingly lean on collective beliefs about the popular expectations they seek to gratify, and thus do not follow popular public opinion as it is, but popular public opinion about popular public opinion.

This book unravels how collective discourses on “the popular” have taken the role of intermediary between political elites and electorates. The shift has been driven by the idea of “liquid control:” that postindustrial electorates should be reached through flexibly designed media campaigns based on a complete understanding of their media-immersed lives. Such a complex representation of popular electorates, actors have believed, cannot be secured by rigid bureaucratic parties, but has to be distilled from the collective wisdom of the crowd of consultants, pollsters, journalists and pundits commenting on the political process.

The mediatization of political representation has run a strikingly similar trajectory to the marketization of capital allocation in finance: starting from a rejection of bureaucratic control, promising a more “liquid” alternative, attempting to detect a collective wisdom (of/about “the markets” and “the people”), and ending up in self-driven spirals of collective speculation.


In the past decades of late modernity, the political system of developed democracies has been deeply transformed. a new configuration of politics has emerged in which actors increasingly rely on popular media channels, rather than party infrastructures, in their efforts to connect and control their constituencies. the emerging system of late modern politics in developed countries can be described with the term “mediatized populist democracy.” Late modern politics, through its transition from “party-based representative democracy” to “mediatized populist democracy,” has adopted a new, populist logic that is very different from the old logic of class (group) representation. Late modern politics is populist since its prime reference point is “the people,” who can be reached through popular media channels (see McGuigan 1992), and not the macro-group (class, ethnic, religious group), which once could be reached through mass party membership. the media-using “people” of late modern democracy is, of course, envisioned as a fragmented and plural conglomerate rather than a pure and coherent entity. Mediatized populist democracy has emerged in the last decades because it has seemed to suit better the individualized, pluralized settings of late modern middle-class society, where citizens do not feel they self-evi-

For an explicit theory of this transition, see Mair 2002 and Ankersmit 2002; for very similar arguments, see Manin 1997 and Crouch 2004; and for an early formulation, see Hall 1983.

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