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Beyond Demagogues and Deplorables: Transforming populist rhetoric for participatory futures

Investigator(s):

Nicole Curato

Beyond Demagogues and Deplorables: Transforming populist rhetoric for participatory futures

Funded through Toyota Foundation Research Grant Program 2017 ($20,270), the Project Team includes:

  • Nicole Curato, Chief Investigator

  • Bianca Ysabelle Franco, Research Associate

  • Septrin John Calamba, Research Associate


Project Description


There are many reasons to think of populism as the opposite of reasonable discussion. Populism appeals to base instincts, sacrificing intellectual rigour in favour of quick solutions. Its polarising speech style creates information silos which inflames prejudices instead of promoting understanding. This project challenges the dichotomy between populism and reasonable discussion. It investigates how the rhetoric of populism can be transformed to meaningful political conversations. The vision is to find practical ways in which societies can be hospitable to inclusive, reflective, and other-regarding discussions amidst deep divisions.


Attention is focused on the case of the Philippines under the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte, but the lessons can be applied to various contexts where populist rhetoric has gained traction. The strategy is simple. A series of deliberative forums will be convened where citizens can reflect on the character of political talk in the Philippines and propose possibilities for enhancing political discussions today. Findings from this citizen-driven forum will be used to forge conversations with government, media, and other stakeholders. Overall, the project aims to make an evidence-based contribution to the future of participatory communication in populist times.