Our research

To explore the ways in which popular music functions as a medium for the mainstreaming of populist ideologies in Italy, and more specifically the three broad research questions of the project, the Florence-based team has pursued its research strategy through four different workpackages. The research design thus aimed at disentangling the topic and at covering different aspects of the complex relationship between pop music and populism in Italy, often described as a sort of “paradise” for populist politics.

The first workpackage has an exploratory goal, namely to trace populist (and anti-populist) ‘affordances’ within contemporary Italian pop music repertoire. We do it through a codebook-based qualitative analysis of lyrics and official videos of nearly 200 songs in the 2009-2018 timeframe. 

The second workpackage instead looks at the strategic exploitation of music, both in party rallies and events and  in political communication, by populist political actors. Consequently, we choose participant observation as a method for analysing the role played by music in the most important public events by the two main populist parties in Italy (the Five Star Movement and the League), eventually relying on video analysis for events that predated the beginning of the research project. We also interview organizers of selected party events to complement our field research. 

The third workpackage looks at the interactions between popstars and politicians in the public sphere, by adopting the concept of “celebrity politics” as a keystone to understand such a relationship in the contemporary hybrid media context. To do so, we rely on formalised web data mining and on expert interviews from the fields of sociology of music, musicology and pop cultural studies.

Finally, the fourth workpackage – arguably the core of our research – focuses on the ‘reception analysis’, i.e. the individual and collective processes of “populist meaning-making” of Italian contemporary pop music.  We rely on a multi-method strategy consisting in ten sessions of Musicological Group Analysis on selected pop songs as emerged from the previous workpackages, as well as on more than twenty interviews with concertgoers of seven selected bands and artists and on eleven focus groups with citizens from different social, educational and territorial backgrounds. 

Our ongoing data analysis can anticipate that looking at politics through the lens of how popular music is strategically used (by politicians) and of how popular music and pop-artists are approached and re-negotiated (by citizens) is extremely fruitful because it allows for grasping deep ideological foundations of both political actors and citizens’ attitudes and tastes. It allows to have a better understanding of how people make sense of the current reality: covered ideologies, social and political cleavages that cannot be reduced to partisan divides. In sum,  studying how people discuss about pop music and culture can provide researchers with maps reflecting citizens’ political preferences. 


Prof. Dr. Manuela Caiani is Associate Professor in Political Science at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa. She has received her national Italian ‘Abilitazione’ for full professorship in Political Science and Political Sociology, in 2017. Since 2019 she is Convenor of the Standing Group ‘Political Participation and Social Movement’, Italian Association for Political Science (SISP). Her research interests focus on: populism (left wing and right wing); right wing extremism and the Internet; the radical right; social movements and political mobilisation; Europeanization/transnationalisation of social movements; qualitative methods of social research (focus groups; interviews; frame analysis, social network analysis, etc.). She has directed and collaborated in a number of international projects on topics relating to: populism, social movements and Europeanization, radical right mobilization and extremism (online), disengagement from terrorism (Volkswagen Stiftung; Europe for Citizens Program;FP4, FP5, FP7; PRIN; Marie Curie; Research Grant Jubilaumsfonds, ONB; Doctoral TRA Fellowship, START Center, 2009, University of Maryland). She published in, among others, the following journals: WEP, EJPR, Mobilization, Acta Politica, European Union Politics, South European Society and Politics, RISP and for the following publishers: Oxford University press, Ashgate, Palgrave. Contact via email

Dr. Enrico Padoan (PhD, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) is a post-doc researcher at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence. His main research interests focus on populism, party organisation, labour politics, and the relationship between populism and pop culture. He is the author of Anti-Neoliberal Populisms in Comparative Perspective (Routledge, 2020) and co-author of a monograph on the 2018 Chilean protests (Cile in rivolta, Castelvecchi, 2020). His works have been pub-lished at Government and OppositionPoliticsJavnostRevista Española de Sociología, Iberoamericana and Partecipazione e Conflitto, among other journals. His monograph Il Movimento 5 Stelle in prospettiva comparata (in Italian) is forthcoming with Mimesis. Contact via email

Our publications

Caiani, Manuela. 2020a. ‘How to measure populism’. In: Polis 2020 (1): 151–64. https://doi.org/10.1424/96444.

Caiani, Manuela. 2020b. ‘The Populist Parties and Their Electoral Success: Different Causes behind Different Populisms? The Case of the Five-Star Movement and the League’. In: Contemporary Italian Politics 11 (3): 236–50. https://doi.org/10.1080/23248823.2019.1647681.

Caiani, Manuela. 2021. ‘Between Real and Virtual: Strategies of Mobilisation of the Radical Right in Eastern Europe’. In: East European Politicshttps://doi.org/10.1080/21599165.2021.1955676.

Caiani, Manuela., Benedetta Carlotti, and Enrico Padoan. 2021. ‘Online Hate Speech and the Radical Right in Times of Pandemic’. In: Javnost – The Public 28 (2): 202–218. https://doi.org/10.1080/13183222.2021.1922191.

Caiani, Manuela, and Michelle Falkenbach. 2021. ‘Italy’s Response to COVID-19’. In: Coronavirus Politics: The Comparative Politics and Policy of COVID-19, 1st ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. https://www.press.umich.edu/11927713/coronavirus_politics.

Caiani, Manuela, and Paolo Graziano. 2019. ‘Understanding Varieties of Populism in Times of Crises’. In: West European Politics 42 (6): 1141–1158, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402382.2019.1598062. (Published also as edited book for Routledge 2021: https://www.routledge.com/Varieties-of-Populism-in-Europe-in-Times-of-Crises/Caiani-Graziano/p/book/9780367743444).

Caiani, Manuela, and Enrico Padoan. 2020a. ‘Populism and the (Italian) Crisis: The Voters and the Context’. In: Politics 41 (3): 334–350. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263395720952627.

Caiani, Manuela, and Enrico Padoan. 2020b. ‘Setting the Scene: Filling the Gaps in Populism Studies’. In: Partecipazione e Conflitto 13 (1): 1–28. https://doi.org/10.1285/i20356609v13i1p01.

Caiani, Manuela, Enrico Padoan, and Bruno Marino. 2021. ‘Candidate Selection, Personalization, and Different Logics of Centralization in New Southern European Populism’. In: Government and Opposition, 1–24.

Caiani, Manuela, and Pàl Susánszky. 2020. ‘Radical-Right Political Activism on the Web and the Challenge for European Democracy: A Perspective from Eastern and Central Europe’. In: Democracy and Fake News Information Manipulation and Post-Truth Politics, 1st ed., 173–87. Abingdon: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Democracy-and-Fake-News-Information-Manipulation-and-Post-Truth-Politics/Giusti-Piras/p/book/9780367479541.

Padoan, Enrico. 2020. Anti-Neoliberal Populisms in Comparative Perspective. A LatinAmericanization of Southern Europe? 1st ed. Routledge Studies in Latin American Politics. Abingdon: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Anti-Neoliberal-Populisms-in-Comparative-Perspective-A-Latinamericanisation/Padoan/p/book/9780367322151.

Padoan, Enrico. Forthcoming (2022). Populismo vs Sinistra. Il Movimento 5 Stelle in prospettiva comparata. Mutamenti. Società e culture in transizione. Sesto San Giovanni: Mimesis.

Padoan, Enrico. Forthcoming (2022). ‘Electoral Realignments within the Left in the Aftermath of Neoliberal Crises. A Critical Juncture Framework for Latin America and Southern Europe.’ In: Partecipazione e Conflitto.