Who are 'the people'?

Olga Pasitselska*, Christian Baden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


As expressions without clear definition but with strong normative charging, empty signifiers play an important role in political discourse. Uniting diverse populations under a common banner and endowing political demands with selfevident legitimacy, they constitute a potent tool for rallying support for political action. Among empty signifiers, one particularly versatile construct are 'the people' as bearers of ultimate political legitimacy. In this paper, we investigate how 'the people' are constructed in propagandistic conflict narratives during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, imbuing the concept with different meanings in the pursuit of competing political ends. We show how 'the people' are constructed as democratic sovereign, enduring nation, moral humans or dispersed media publics, each time summoning different kinds of legitimacy and using different strategies to construct encompassing consensus and marginalize dissent. We discuss implications for the study of ideological discourse, populism and political communication.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)666-690
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Language and Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 8 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company 2020.


  • Empty signifiers
  • Ideology
  • Legitimation
  • Political discourse
  • Populism
  • Propaganda
  • Russian-Ukrainian conflict
  • The people


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