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Organising populism: from symbolic power to symbolic violence

Kerr, Ron; Robinson, Sarah; Śliwa, Martyna

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Ron Kerr

Sarah Robinson


This article contributes to developing a management and organisation studies perspective on political organising by focusing on: (a) populism; (b) the exercise of political power; and (c) the organisation of politics. We address two questions: in what ways have English populist politicians in the 20th and 21st centuries utilised language along with other aspects of campaign organising to build and enhance their symbolic power? And: how do populist political organisations convert symbolic power into symbolic violence? Drawing on a range of concepts from Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology, most specifically his work on symbolic power, symbolic violence, political ontology and the performativity of language, we conduct a comparative analysis of texts from four waves of right-wing English populism culminating in Brexit. We develop a three-step framework to explain the organisation of right-wing populism via what we term populist political methodology: (1) establishing the symbolic power of the leader and the message; (2) organising power and the division of labour of domination; and (3) reinforcing symbolic violence in targeted sections of society. Understanding how populist politics is organised can support us in resisting, challenging and disrupting right-wing populism, providing lessons for organisations campaigning against racism and xenophobia.


Kerr, R., Robinson, S., & Śliwa, M. (2022). Organising populism: from symbolic power to symbolic violence. Human Relations,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 19, 2022
Online Publication Date Oct 31, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Sep 13, 2022
Publicly Available Date Sep 13, 2022
Journal Human Relations
Print ISSN 0018-7267
Electronic ISSN 1741-282X
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (322 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (

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