Populism at the Limits of Democracy: The Case of Turkey

Tascioglu, Irem. 2019. Populism at the Limits of Democracy: The Case of Turkey. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Populism’s polemical nature makes it susceptible to negative and positive attributions, based on the interpreter’s stance with regards to the question of liberalism and democracy. The problem in both pejorative and emancipatory readings of populism lies in presupposing the ‘liberal’ and ‘democratic’ pillars as separate, contradictory or, at best, ‘paradoxically combined’. The theoretical departure point of this thesis is that liberalism cannot be strictly separated from democracy, as both rely on and presuppose the modern imaginary of ‘the people’ and popular sovereignty. This thesis argues that populism shares this imaginary with liberalism and democracy, but contains a more expansive agenda aimed at ‘stretching’ the limits imposed by the representative and constitutional dimensions of liberal democracies. To contextualise and substantiate this perspective on populism, this thesis deploys the Gramscian concept of passive revolution to critically analyse the trajectory of populism in Turkey, specifically in terms of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s policies and discourse in the period before and after the 2010 Constitutional Referendum. The thesis argues that the concept of passive revolution makes possible a contextual analysis that not only fits the Turkish case historically but complicates the question of populism’s relation with liberal democracy. Turkey’s recent political history offers a unique and controversial testing ground for a novel interpretation of populism, especially insofar as it exceeds the normatively-infused Western imaginary linking together populism, liberalism and democracy. Bridging the historically-sensitive analytical framework of passive revolution and a strictly theoretical understanding of populism as an internal periphery of democracy, this thesis seeks to elucidate the intricate ways in which populism plays itself out in the context of the AKP’s rule in Turkey, specifically focusing on the AKP’s antagonistic use of the ‘empty-signifier’ of the coup, first in the 2010 Constitutional Referendum and later in the political trials against the junta that had ruled over Turkey in the early 1980s. These two cases reveal the AKP’s populist constitutional and legal politics but also mark a particular moment in the continuum of populist expansionism, which paradoxically unfolds through the rhetoric of upholding the ‘rule of law’.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Populism, Passive Revolution, Liberal Democracy, Authoritarianism, Empty Place of Power, the AKP, Turkey, Referendum

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 March 2019

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Date Deposited:

24 Apr 2019 15:19

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:14



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