Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Susan Buck-Morss

Committee Members

Benedetto Fontana

Gary Wilder

Subject Categories

Political Science | Political Theory


Podemos, Spain, Populism, Political Strategy, Left-wing politics, Contemporary political theory


In recent times, emergent political movements have sought to construct a project of political renewal based upon the search for such a new language, renaming and rewording both the political world and their own traditions. One such is the Spanish political party Podemos, whose sudden rise and success has already made it a referent for contemporary radical politics. This group has articulated a political strategy based upon what I call a politico-linguistic conjecture: the idea that an effective political strategy is dependent on finding the right words for the moment, on an appropriate fit between conjuncture and discourse. The production of a new vocabulary, style, and grammar of politics is therefore proposed as the condition for effective political action: only by doing so can the confusions of the social world be translated into a precise political tactic. Yet, if it is possible to both require such a new language, without which one could not change the world, while at the same time already being engaged in the process of doing so without the appropriate words, is there not a crisis in the conceptual framework used for understanding what is required of language in political strategy? In response, I read the thought of those behind and around Podemos as a textual repository of a specific, situated practice of analysis, and reading of events. A practice that, moreover, displays a close connection to the conjuncturally imposed problems and tasks. In that sense, I also consult a number of contemporaneous discussions of its theoretical import, evaluations of its strategy and theory that conform a creative milieu of political thought that spans reflections situated in Spain, but also in Latin America. Thus, in analyzing Podemos I seek materials for a wider theoretical discussion about political strategy. After an introduction that sets the problem by looking at the problem of political aphasia, reviewing the development of the concept of conjuncture, and reviewing the literature on the emergence of Podemos, Chapter Two discusses the relation between Podemos as political party and the social movements that defined the context in which it emerged. I do so by looking at the arguments presented for the necessity of the translation of an inarticulate social into the language of the political. Chapters Three and Four consider subsequently the analyses of Podemos’ two most prominent thinkers: Pablo Iglesias and Íñigo Errejón. The former is discussed with reference to his media leadership and the program Otra Vuelta de Tuerka as a labor of memory. The latter through a reading of his works analyzing the conjuncture into which Podemos would insert itself originally. These chapters reveal the contours of an adaptation of theories of populism and hegemony, appropriating them for action in a specific context. Chapters Five and Six represent an extended argument regarding attempts at synthesizing populism and republicanism. What emerges from this discussion is in part an awareness that the political import of Podemos as a contemporary political project exceeds what can be contained in the terms of populism. Chapter Five concludes by identifying the possibility that recent attempts at combining republican and populist concerns evince an attitude towards social conflict, that sees it as the unavoidable horizon of political action, rather than as a means for progress in the sense of an overcoming of the present conditions of oppression. Chapter Six develops an answer to this problem by looking at the theory of Claude Lefort, specifically his study of social conflict and division in Machiavelli. I respond to Lefort through a reading of Machiavelli that stresses his character as teacher and his approach to political conjunctures. In doing so, I consider not only Machiavelli’s well-known praise for social conflict, but also his ideas about the possibility of transforming language and of the necessity of re-founding. Finally, I provide a political conclusion with indications for the articulation of a political theory that does not see the need for linguistic articulation as a limit.