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Friday, 03 September 2010


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John Emerson

I'm partial to the definition something like "a member or supporter of the American Populist Party, 1890-1900." That sounds snarky, but that was the Websters' Unabridged definition as late as 1979 -- it wasn't used as a common or generic noun yet*. (I haven't seen the OED 2nd ed. definition). Since Gellner and Hofstadter's 1969 attempt to define it as a technical social science term has apparently failed, partly because the term was mostly used as a pejorative, I'd almost be willing to retire the word. Otherwise, "any popular social movement despised by social scientists" might work.

Part of the difficulty of the word can be seen that in 1998 Pitchfork Ben Tillman, often thought of as an ideal-type populist, mustered a volunteer militia to send to North Carolina to destroy the successful Republican-Populist alliance there.

Ruy Texeira talks about a mass upper middle class, which I think is what a lot of the Teapartiers are. Can the upper middle class be populist? I don't think that stupidity and racism should be enough to qualify.

*Someone told me that it was used as at least twice as a generic word in the 1930s, but for whatever reason it didn't make it into Websters.

John Emerson



Late to the party, but in case anyone is still reading...

I teach at a UK university (top 10) and we're in the midst of adapting to a new university ranking system (since all the Unis are public - barring 1 - the govt gets to rank them) that includes "impact" (that is, the impact of the department's research and teaching activities) alongside education and research quality. Impact means things like running programs for local high school kids, publishing popular texts, appearing on television, etc. I'm an archaeologist meaning that impact is the BEST THING EVER because by nature of doing archaeology - being in communities doing fieldwork alongside locals, working in museums, writing for popular magazines and doing TV shows we get lots and lots of impact credit. Other fields in the humanities are terrified, but for the first time (pretty much ever) we're finding ourselves well placed to benefit and actually look like we do something valuable (we do!!)

Anyhow, just a contrasting case study to say: it's ain't all like the US model.

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