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Populism, Ideology and Discourse in the Global South

Kirk Hawkins

Kirk A. Hawkins is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Brigham Young University. He received his bachelor’s degree in international relations and Spanish from Brigham Young University, USA and his PhD in political science from Duke University, USA. He teaches about comparative politics, especially of Latin America, with a special focus on political organization and political ideas. His initial studies focused on political parties and clientelism in Latin America, but his research on Venezuela led him to the study of populist governments around the globe in an effort to better measure and catalog their effects. More recently, he has focused on the study of affective polarization (a significant consequence of populism) and techniques of depolarization, especially by assessing the work of non-profits in the United States. He is currently on the Scholars Council of Braver Angels, a US non-profit engaged in depolarization. He is also the director of Team Populism, a scholarly network dedicated to the global study of populism and its consequences.

Most recent relevant publications

Hawkins, K. (2019). The Ideational Approach: Routledge Handbook of Global Populism. Abingdon: Routledge.

Hawkins, K. A., & Rovira Kaltwasser, C. (2018). Measuring populist discourse in the United States and beyond. Nature human behavior, 2(4), 241-242.

Hawkins, K. A., Kaltwasser, C. R., & Andreadis, I. (2020). The activation of populist attitudes. Government and Opposition, 55(2), 283-307.

As the co-convenor of your hub, how do you perceive the general topic in relation to your hub?

Like all fields of political science, we aim to better understand how the political world functions. However, this project has broader ambitions than solely political science; it is an interdisciplinary social science project, where we strive to comprehend how society operates. Politics is a part of this, but we must also consider how the government interacts with the economy and how this relates to the peace and community we share with our neighbors and in our homes. The project has a broad focus, encompassing all these aspects, but it particularly concentrates on countries in what is often referred to as the global south—nations that are economically challenged and have less consolidated democracies. The goal is to explore ways to improve these situations. In other words, the project, in my view, focuses on understanding and enhancing policies. Therefore, policy relevance and implications are crucial components of the project.

Our hub deals with this question in relation to populism. Populism is currently at the forefront of many people’s minds. Being an inherent part of democracy, it inherently possesses the potential to arise. Populism tends to be more prevalent in countries grappling with weak governance, corruption, and governments that fail to deliver equitably for all citizens. However, we often overlook the fact that populism has been a long-standing issue; it’s not new, but rather has resurfaced. Exploring the more chronic experiences of populism in countries of the global south offers valuable insights. As a social scientist, it’s fascinating to consider what lessons we can learn from each other in this regard. Additionally, we aim to understand polarization, a significant consequence of populism. Populism unfortunately undermines key institutions of liberal democracy and acts as a catalyst for polarization within our societies. It creates divisions among citizens, fostering an unwillingness to coexist or collaborate. The ramifications of this are substantial.

As the co-convenor of your hub, how do you relate to other hubs?

Our hub’s interdisciplinary approach extends beyond political science, connecting with other hubs to address issues like populism and its consequences. We explore how populists, when in power, often undermine democracy and civil liberties, leading to democratic backsliding and increased authoritarianism. This dynamic fosters polarization and challenges liberal democracy’s core institutions. Our collaboration with other hubs, focusing on economic development and equity, sheds light on the causal chain linking poor governance, inequity, and populism. We strive to understand these interrelated problems, recognizing their complexity and the importance of a unified effort across various disciplines and thematic areas.