Thesis / Dissertation

Populism without ‘the people’: A discourse analysis of the 2016 EU referendum

Lucas Grainger-Brown, Sarah Maddison (ed.)

Published : 2020


The EU referendum of 2016 is commonly defined as a populist event. This is a misinterpretation. Current scholarship conceptualises populism as a thin ideology, discourse, or performative repertoire that pits ‘the people’ against ‘the elite’. This thesis argues that none of these features actually apply to the EU referendum. Brexit arose from an elite-defined process featuring an elite-controlled debate. Far from a populist irruption, the EU referendum endorsed a particular type of anti-populism. Anti-populism can bluntly state its distaste of populism and attempt to dissolve ‘the people’. Equally, though, it can manifest as a phenomenon this thesis terms populism without ‘the people’ – a d..

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