Populist polarization in postcolonial Philippines: Sociolinguistic rifts in online drug war discourse

Joshua Uyheng, Ateneo de Manila University
Cristina Jayme Montiel, Ateneo de Manila University


Social psychological scholarship on populism explains polarization processes in terms of individual differences and group‐level divisions. However, predominant approaches often elide wider historical contexts, implicitly assuming the structural features of Western settings. Invoking insights from postcolonial psychology, we posit that populist polarization dynamics in the Global South are structurally shaped by colonial histories. Turning to the Philippines under populist President Rodrigo Duterte, we examine polarized online constructions of his controversial war on drugs. Employing a discourse‐historical approach, we uncover a structurally bifurcated view of populist polarization. We specifically unpack sociolinguistic rifts across vernacular discourses of community security uttered in Filipino versus cosmopolitan discourses of democratic integrity uttered in English. Our findings expand prevailing scholarship by illustrating postcolonial discursive possibilities of populism from above and resistance from below. We conclude with insights for studying populist polarization at the nexus of local and global inequalities.