The “return” of the people? Mapping discourses of peoplehood across Western Europe with LCA

Mr. Ronald Küppers

Recent decades have faced political scientists with the challenge to make sense of shifting forms of political participation, spurred by a context of multiple crises that has punctuated long-term trends of depoliticisation since the 1970s. At the centre of this debate is the need to understand the rising presence and significance of “people” discourses and populism. Nevertheless, even if populism studies has focused increasingly on mass politics, a preference for the psychological modelling of mass attitudes has prevented research from understanding how shifting political behaviour is grounded in (shifting) mass discourses. Moving from a deductive explo- ration of populism to a broader, inductive exploration of peoplehood, in this paper I ask whether citizens hold consistent worldviews as regards peoplehood, what they can tell us about contemporary collective belong- ing, and whether they are associated to different behavioural patterns. Focusing on a broader object of study, this research is therefore also rel- evant to a variety of literatures concerned with the relation between in- dividuals and democratic governance in (post)modern times. In line with recent innovative literature in nationalism studies, I explore through LCA the contents and contours of peoplehood as a mass discourse in Western Europe. I do so by using EVS 2017 data, which is an ideal dataset since it includes items that manage to tap into the three dimensions of the con- struct theorised. The results indicate 6 distinct typologies of peoplehood exist, and that they effectively are associated to different types of political behaviour. I also relate findings both to populism research and to broader theoretical debates on postmodern politics, casting doubt over the idea that rising populism reflects a “return” of the people.