The Centre on Social Movement Studies


Populism in power and its socioeconomic policies in Europe

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COSMOS WORKSHOP (Blended format)

Guglielmo Meardi and Manuela Caiani (SNS, Florence) present

Populism in power and its socioeconomic policies in Europe

18-19th March 2021 

Scuola Normale Superiore, Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Palazzo Strozzi (5° floor), Piazza Strozzi, Florence

GMeet Link: TBA

The twenty-first century has seen a surge in the populist phenomenon across all regions of the world, with populist parties and leaders gaining crucial policy positions in parliaments and governments. Different combinations of economic, political, societal and cultural factors have led to the manifestation of distinct ‘varieties’ or ‘subtypes’ of populism and, in turn, to different categorizations by scholars, such as, among others, right-wing vs. left-wing (or exclusionary vs. inclusionary) populism. While the definition of ‘populist’ remains often contested, the call for ordinary people to stand against elites and reject intermediary representative institutions has been recorded from parties with different ideological underpinnings, discourse and organizational features, which we can expect to be reflected in distinct policy platforms. Yet policy agendas and reforms, compared to their discourses and communication instruments pursued by populist actors, are still a relatively under-researched area of study. The aim of the present workshop is to contribute to fill this gap by combining theoretical reflections and empirical analyses.

While the initial association of populism with specific combinations of economic and fiscal policies (the notion of ‘economic populism’ derived from the study of Latin American governments between the 1940s and 1970s) has now been dismissed, the idea of identifying an inherent, ideal-typical kind of populist policy or style of policy-making still sparks debates. The workshop will address this issue in an explorative way and through methodological pluralism, combining qualitative and quantitative studies that consider different policy areas, both at national and subnational level, as well as the wider transformations of societies, labour markets and economic systems in which policy-making is embedded. The workshop is organized along three main themes: the economic and social policies promoted by populist parties; the impact of populist policy-makers on labour market policies and labour relations; the relationship between populist policies and broader social issues, such as climate change and gender equality. By taking into account the analytical frameworks that have already been proposed to understand changes in the field socioeconomic policy, the workshop will shed light on the nature and direction of policy choices by populist actors, which adds important contributions to our understanding of the populist phenomenon as a whole.

Through the selection of single contributions and the overall themes that will be analyzed, the workshop will bridge the theoretical perspectives of two distinct disciplines that in this case appear especially complementary, those of political science and economic sociology: on the one hand, the lenses of political science and policy studies allow to unveil the dynamics of party competition, the relationship with social movements and the interactions among policy actors; on the other hand, the focus of economic sociology on the relationship between workplace and the wider social structures and processes will place the analysis of populist policies in the broader context of our changing labour markets, economies and societies. The following topics will be addressed: welfare and family policies; fiscal reforms, redistribution and taxation; market regulation; labour relations and labour market policies; migrants’ integration and inclusion policies, but also populism and broader social challenges of the 21st century (such as health and environmental issues).


DAY 1 (14-18.40)

14.00 – 14.15 Welcome and introduction

SESSION I (chair Manuela Caiani)




15.15- 15.35 

Break 20 min (15.35- 15.55)

SESSION II (chair Guglielmo Meardi)

15.55- 16.15

16.15- 16.35


16.55- 17.15

Break 20 min (17.15- 17.35)



  • Alexandre Afonso (Leiden University)- Social and Economic Correlates of Aggregate Support for the Radical Right in Portugal
  • Oscar Mazzoleni (Université de Lausanne) and Gilles Ivaldi (Sciences Po-CEVIPOF )– Populism, Producerism and Sovereignism. The Moral Economy of the Radical Right-wing Parties.
  • Arianna Tassinari (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne – Concertation and populisms in crisis-hit countries
  • Matteo Jessoula (University of Milan), Marcello Natili (University of Milan), Emmanuele Pavolini (University of Macerata)– Right-Wing Populists and Welfare Policy.

SESSIONII Research in progress (Phd students at the SNS and EUI)

  • Matteo Marenco (SNS) – Populist parties and the politics of ‘digital outsiders’ (co-authored with Beatrice Carella)
  • Beatrice Carella (SNS) – Anti-neoliberal populism in Southern Europe and social policies
  • Fred Paxton (EUI) – Populist radical right and local government
  • Rebecca Caroline Kittel (EUI) –Patterns of populists in parliaments: a comparison of populists’ debating behaviour and its influence on the electorate in Europe.

17.35- 18.40 Keynote: David Ost, (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton)“Populism, Fascism, and Why So Many Workers Turn from Left to Right” (chair Gabor, Scheiring)


DAY 2 (14-17.00)

SESSION I  (chair Manuela Caiani)





Break 30 min (15.20-15.50)

SESSION II (chair Enrico Padoan)

15.50- 16.10


16.30- 17: Final comments



  • Rathgeb, Philip and Michael Baggesen Klitgaard (University of Konstanz) – Attack or Adapt? The Institutional Politics of Populist Radical Right Parties
  • Guglielmo Meardi (SNS) and Igor Guardiancich (University of Padova)– Back to the Familialist Future: The Rise of Social Policy for Ruling Populist Radical Right Parties in Italy and Poland
  • Dorothee Bohle, (European University Institute) – Austerity and the rise of right-wing nationalism: Policy responses to the Great Financial Crisis in Europe’s Periphery
  • Gabor, Scheiring, (Bocconi University, Research Fellow of Dondena Research Centre for Social Dynamics and Public Policy)–The Political Economy of Illiberal Populist Governance: Poland and Hungary compared



  • Balsa Lubarda (CEU, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy) and Manuela Caiani (SNS) – Environmental policies of right wing populist in power: the cases of Hungary, Poland, Italy and Czech Republic.
  • Michelle Falkenbach (University of Michigan School of Public Health) – Populism in power and health policies:the cases of Austria and Italy at the local level).





The Far-right and conspiraciy theories from Covid to the European elections

Donatella Della Porta has researched on “Regressive movements in time of emergency” using the case of protests against anti contagion measures. Protesters pictured themselves as an abused minority fighting against some hidden and organized power. We asked Della Porta to explain why and how conspiracy theories and this kind of posturing is keen to fall for the political offer of rightwing parties.


Social movements, Coronavirus and the right to healthcare

The 2020 pandemic has brought renewed focus on public healthcare and many mobilizations both on healthcare systems and vaccine patents. What are the peculiarities of right to healthcare movements? A talk with Cosmos Lab member Stella Christou


Far right movements and the European elections

Intersections and differences among far right politica Europan parties and movments, transatlantic exchanges, the role of mobilizations at the grassroots level. An interview with political scientist Andrea Pirro


An open letter on freedom of expression and protest on Palestine by the European social movement studies community

As social movement scholars we express strong concerns about the growing trend to restrict the right of expression, critique, and protest in several countries in Europe. Signed by research centres, journals and standing groups.


CFP: Feminism as a method - Feminist Epistemologies, Methodologies and Methods in Social Sciences

International Conference 14-15 November 2024 Anastasia Barone, Giada Bonu Rosenkranz and Donatella della Porta (Scuola Normale Superiore)


CFP: Analyzing protest in the digital age. Challenges and opportunities in combining text and video sources

Organizers Donatella della Porta, Scuola Normale Superiore Swen Hutter, Freie Universität Berlin & WZB Berlin Social Science Center Place and date WZB Berlin Social Science Center, December 7-8, 2023


Journal Article - 2023

Resisting right-wing populism in power: a comparative analysis of the Facebook activities of social movements in Italy and the UK

Niccolò Pennucci
This paper aims to present a comparative study of the civil society reaction to right-wing populism in power through social media, by looking at cases in Italy and the United Kingdom.

Journal Article - 2023

Emotions in Action: the Role of Emotions in Refugee Solidarity Activism

Chiara Milan
This article investigates the different types of emotions that result from participation in refugee solidarity activism, investigating how they change over time and to what extent they explain why individuals remain involved in action in spite of unfavorable circumstances.

Journal Article - 2023

‘Love is over, this is going to be Turkey!’: cathartic resonance between the June 2013 protests in Turkey and Brazil

Batuhan Eren
This study addresses the question of why and how a protest can inspire individuals in distant countries. Taking the June 2013 protests in Turkey and Brazil as cases, it investigates the reasons why the Turkish protests were framed as one of the inspirational benchmarks by some Brazilian protesters.

Journal Article - 2023

Mutual aid and solidarity politics in times of emergency: direct social action and temporality in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Lorenzo Zamponi
From the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures introduced created a series of social problems and needs that were partially addressed in Italy as well as in other countries by grassroots mutual aid initiatives. While many of these initiatives were strongly rooted in the Italian social movement and civil society landscape and the choice to engage in mutual aid activities was the result of long years of reflection and planning, the article shows how strongly the temporality of emergency affected the nature of these initiatives, their development and their outcomes, in particular with regard to the extraordinary number of people who volunteered and their relationship with politicisation processes.

Monograph - 2023

Populism and (Pop) Music

Manuela Caiani, Enrico Padoan
The book provides a detailed account of the links between production of popular culture to the rise of populism and contributes to studies on populism and popular culture in Italy, using a comparative approach and a cultural sociology perspective

Monograph - 2022

Labour conflicts in the digital age

Donatella della Porta, Riccardo Emilio Chesta, Lorenzo Cini
From Deliveroo to Amazon, digital platforms have drastically transformed the way we work. But how are these transformations being received and challenged by workers? This book provides a radical interpretation of the changing nature of worker movements in the digital age, developing an invaluable approach that combines social movement studies and industrial relations. Using case studies taken from Europe and North America, it offers a comparative perspective on the mobilizing trajectories of different platform workers and their distinct organizational forms and action repertoires.

Monograph - 2022

Resisting the Backlash: Street Protest in Italy

Donatella della Porta, Niccolò Bertuzzi, Daniela Chironi, Chiara Milan, Martín Portos & Lorenzo Zamponi
Drawing interview material, together with extensive data from the authors’ original social movement database, this book examines the development of social movements in resistance to perceived political "regression" and a growing right-wing backlash.

Journal Article - 2021

Learning from Democratic Practices: New Perspectives in Institutional Design

Andrea Felicetti
Drawing from literature on democratic practices in social movements and democratic innovations, the article illustrates three ways to advance institutional design in the wake of the systemic turn.

Monograph - 2021

Migrant Protest. Interactive Dynamics in Precarious Mobilizations

Elias Steinhilper
This book explores the interactions and spaces shaping the emergence, trajectory, and fragmentation of migrant protest in unfavorable contexts of marginalization.

Journal Article - 2021

Populism between voting and non-electoral participation

Andrea Pirro & Martín Portos
The article focuses on a neglected aspect of populist mobilisation, i.e. non-electoral participation (NEP), and elaborates on the extent to which populist party voters engage politically outside the polling station. While challenging common understandings of populism as inherently distrustful and apathetic, and protest as an exclusive practice of the left, the study critically places NEP at the heart of populism in general, and populist right politics in particular.