Savage, Ritchie

Ritchie SavagePhD candidate, The New School for Social Research
Expected completion: Fall 2013

Curriculum Vitae (PDF)

Dissertation title
"A Comparative Analysis of Populist Discourse in Venezuela and the United States"

Areas of expertise
Social theory, political sociology, comparative-historical sociology, cultural sociology

Ritchie Savage is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at The New School for Social Research. His work utilizes discourse theory within a comparative-historical framework in order to identify similar structures of political discourse across cases and tie them to transformations in modern politics. His current research analyzes the role of populist discursive formations in political contexts spanning from the postwar period to the present in Venezuela and the United States.

Dissertation abstract
My dissertation investigates the way in which populist discourse is structured in order to appeal to the people and foster multiclass coalitions. Confronted with the proliferating usage and ambiguity of the concept, I began my project with the research question: “What is populism?” I discovered three bodies of literature, corresponding to three regions (i.e. the U.S., Latin America, Western Europe), with contrasting usages of the term. Every combination of comparisons had been made between the regions, except that there were no systematic comparisons of populism in the U.S. and Latin America. Why? And to what level of phenomena does populism correspond – a type of regime, political tactic, or discourse? Using the conceptual framework of populism as discourse, I have analyzed speeches and articles covering Betancourt’s Acción Democrática, Chávez, McCarthyism, and the Tea Party, and I argue that there is an essential structure to populist discourse revealed in references to the ‘enemy’ as a representation of the persistence of social conflict. In the discourses of these politicians and social movements, references to the enemy are posed against a ‘founding moment of the social,’ which serves as a collective memory of the origins of democracy and struggle for equality. With evidence provided that this binary structure is present in all of the aforementioned cases, I conclude that populism is a case of a universal discursive formation, which can emerge in administrations, social movements, and ideologies with vastly different characteristics. I utilize this framework to reveal that instances of populism, which once proved to be exceptional phenomena within modern forms of political rule, are now becoming part of the institutionalized structure of democratic politics, due to the successful linking of Manichean discourse with clear economic policies. My comparison between populism in Venezuela and the United States is pertinent because it highlights the similarities between the political discourses produced in two countries that are usually classified as empirically specific regarding their economic and political development and ideological orientation – yet once the similar structure of their political discourse is revealed, other comparisons emerge as well as new ways to historically frame the economic and political relationships between the two countries. In this sense, my work contributes to the field of political sociology by showing that a structural approach to political discourse can bridge empirical and historically specific data with an overarching theory of transformations in modern politics. I contribute to comparative-historical sociology by providing an approach that analyzes cases, in which there are obvious differences and resistances to comparison, for the purpose of elucidating important and often overlooked similarities.

Teaching experience
With seven years of teaching experience, I have developed and taught courses at Pratt Institute and St. John’s University, including Introduction to Sociology, Language and Culture, and Race and Ethnicity. I also held a position as a teaching assistant for Social Thought 1 in the New School University Lecture Program.

Selected publications
2012. Savage, Ritchie. “From McCarthyism to the Tea Party: Interpreting Anti-leftist Forms of U.S. Populism in Comparative Perspective.” New Political Science: 34 (4): 564-584.
2011. Savage, Ritchie. “Populist Elements in Contemporary American Political Discourse.” The Sociological Review: 58 (Special Issue): 169-188.
2008 “Merleau-Ponty’s Use of the Weberian Example: Avoiding Totalizing Meanings in History.” Pp. 73-85 in Max Weber Matters: Interweaving Past and Present, eds. David Chalcraft, Fanon Howell, Marisol Lopez Menendez, Hector Vera. Farnham: Ashgate

Ritchie Savage 
Department of Sociology 
The New School for Social Research 
6 East 16th Street, 9th floor 
New York, NY 10003 

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