Research Seminar: Populist Disruption and the Fourth Age of Political Communication

From Trump to Farage, populist politicians shock audiences and disrupt norms.


In this talk I argue that understanding populism as a communicative process and contextualising it in relation to historical changes to the political communication environment improves our understanding of how it grips citizens.

Specifically, I identify the disruptive communicative practices of populist politicians as characteristic of a fourth age of political communication. I thereby extend Blumler and Kavanagh’s (1999) account of the third age of political communication.

The talk conceptualises populist communication as a reaction against communicative norms of the third age, such as the professionalisation of political communication, that create a perceived disconnect between public representatives and citizens.

It identifies three aspects of populist communication that, through this oppositional positioning, erodes the third age of political communication and encapsulates the fourth: a populist pragmatics of disruptive symbolic action, an ontology that suggests political representation to be non-existent, and an epistemological stance that replaces objectivity and expertise with authenticity.

About Lone Sorensen

Lone Sorensen is Lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Leeds, which she joined in 2020. She completed her PhD on a communication approach to populism at the University of Leeds in 2018 on a University Research Scholarship. She then held a lecturer position at the University of Huddersfield before returning to Leeds.

Previous to her academic career, she worked in online publishing as a content manager, web editor and writer and owned and managed an eco-hotel and associated development projects in the Malawian rainforest. 

Her first monograph, Populist Communication: Ideology, Performance, Mediation, recently won the ICA Global Communication and Social Change Division’s Best Book award. She has also published a number of peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on populism, political listening, political performance, digital politics and mediatization. 

She co-convenes the Political Studies Association Populism Specialist Group and SMC’s research group on Political Communication.

She has previously participated in a number of international projects and networks: the COST Action on Populist Political Communication in Europe (2013-2018) and the EU-funded Media, Conflict and Democratisation (MeCoDEM) project (2013-2018).