Tensions between populist and feminist politics: The case of the Spanish left populist party Podemos

Publication Date01 November 2021
AuthorPaloma Caravantes
DOI10.1177/0192512120931209
Date01 November 2021
SubjectSymposium: Populism and feminist politics
https://doi.org/10.1177/0192512120948917
International Political Science Review
2021, Vol. 42(5) 596 –612
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/0192512120931209
journals.sagepub.com/home/ips
948917IPS0010.1177/0192512120948917International Political Science ReviewGwiazda
research-article2020
Symposium: Populism and feminist politics
Tensions between populist
and feminist politics: The
case of the Spanish left
populist party Podemos
Paloma Caravantes
Rutgers University, USA
Abstract
This paper analyzes the interplay of left populist and feminist politics through a case study of
Podemos (‘we can’), a Spanish left populist party that reproduces a dominant gendered logic of
politics despite its feminist interpretation of democratic renewal. I argue that this is the result
of fundamental contradictions between the feminist and populist projects of political transfor-
mation that coexist in the party. Even if left populism offers a more productive terrain for gender
equality than right populism, central tenets of populism disrupt feminist commitments and goals.
Chief among these are the oversimplification of the political field based on a limited diagnosis, the
exclusionary appeals to the homeland and to a homogenizing collectivity of the people, the
dominant masculine and personalistic logics of charismatic leaders, the prioritization of electoral
success over other forms of political transformation, and the resulting gendered political culture
that marginalizes empowerment, inclusion, and participatory democratic practices.
Keywords
Left populism, feminist politics, Spain, gendered political culture, political transformation
Introduction
As a growing force in nations across the globe, populism has been variously defined as a
political style, a strategy, a discourse, an ideology, and a political logic—typically
Corresponding author:
Paloma Caravantes, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University, 162 Ryders Lane, New Brunswick,
NJ 08901, USA.
Email: paloma.caravantesgonzalez@rutgers.edu
Caravantes 597
interpreted as a right-wing phenomenon. In analyzing gender dimensions of populism,
researchers have examined leaders, followers, and discourse. Emphasizing the exclusionary
and masculine style of far-right politics, gender scholars have depicted populist actors as
enemies of pluralism who lack any substantive interest in gender equality. Few studies focus
on left populism or how distinctive elements of left populist actors facilitate a productive
dialogue with feminist politics, such as the discursive construction of an inclusionary and
diverse ‘people’ and a decentralized and plural ‘homeland,’ and the commitment to limited
leadership and participatory democracy (Kantola and Lombardo, 2019; Mudde and
Kaltwasser, 2013).
This paper explores the interplay of populist and feminist politics through a case study of
Podemos (‘we can’), a Spanish left populist party that reproduces a dominant gendered logic
of politics despite its feminist interpretation of democratic renewal. Through discourse anal-
ysis of leaders’ official rhetoric, participant observation, and in-depth interviews with grass-
roots members, I trace populist and feminist elements in the discourses and practices of
Podemos. My analysis reveals fundamental contradictions between feminist and populist
projects of political transformation, even if the attempt to construct inclusionary political
subjectivities and the pro-egalitarian principles of leadership, participation, and organiza-
tion promoted by left populism offer a more productive terrain for gender equality than
right populism. These frictions include the simplification of the political field and a limited
diagnosis based on a reductionist antagonism with the elite, the exclusionary implications in
the appeals to the homeland and to a collectivity of the people, the dominant masculine
and personalistic logics of charismatic leadership, and a tendency to reproduce a gendered
political culture based on the prioritization of organizational efficiency and electoral
competition.
The analysis of a left populist party with feminist commitments provides a unique oppor-
tunity to understand the specific tensions between two projects of political transformation
that are on the rise and often in opposition—as feminist protests mobilize against conser-
vative populist actors worldwide. The study of Podemos’ party culture not only substan-
tiates the importance of examining the ideological diversity of populism, but also illuminates
the gendered dynamics of a populist framework in political organizations. The article is
structured as follows: the first section discusses populism and feminism as two projects of
political transformation and provides a conceptual framework to analyze their relation. The
second situates Podemos in the Spanish political context. The third addresses the method-
ology of the study. The fourth traces the tensions between the populist and feminist elements
in Podemos. The fifth discusses implications of this analysis.
Populist and feminist politics
I define populist and feminist politics as two projects of political transformation. In partic-
ular, I focus on the transformation of political institutions and the problems that populism
and feminism identify in mechanisms of political representation. I explore different
dimensions in which right populism, left populism, and feminist politics overlap and con-
tradict, setting the conceptual bases for a comparative analysis of Podemos’ discourses and
practices. These dimensions include diagnoses of the political problem; proposed solutions
concerning type of leadership, assessment of representative democracy, and role of the state
and the nation; and the conceptualization of political change. Table 1 summarizes

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT