Research topic: Chavez and Venezuelan media: A case study of populism: Evaluating the role of news media in the growth of poulism and populist practices over a period of ten years (1997-2007)


Dr Elena Block's investigation focused on the development of Chávez’s political communication style, characterised by the way the late President incrementally built a mimetic bond with his constituents via the sentimentalisation, informalisation and mediatisation of power relations in Venezuela. This process led to the mimetisation of the ruler and his followers into the same collective identity: Chávez.

Elena explains that the notion of mimetisation describes a phenomenon that moves beyond classic populist styles of communication, based on having an ‘appeal to the people’, towards a more inclusive, participatory and amalgamating form of political communication. “By virtue of mimetisation leader and constituents became one—‘Chávez’—a collective identity that could be understood as what Theodor Adorno called “the redemption of the many into the one’”, Elena suggests.

“Although Chávez was a controversial figure that deepened political polarisation and led Venezuela to the highest rates of crime and inflation in Latin America and the world, he provided the poor and unprivileged with identity and voice, even if it was a top-down kind of identity and voice: Chavez’s own”, she suggests.

“My research also explores how Chávez’s political communication style triggered significant political-cultural changes that made Venezuela a more socially aware and sensitive nation”, said Block.

Elena explained that Chávez created paradigmatic participatory social programs called the “missions” that boosted significant social changes, particularly in matters of health and education for the needy. “They felt included and recognised by a man whose informal, profoundly dramaturgical, style of political communication knew no elite boundaries or the limits imposed by presidential ceremonial protocols”. 

“Also, his savvy use of all forms of media, mainstream, alternative, community and social media, helped him develop and strengthen the sentimental mimetic tie with his publics”, Block explained.

Elena’s theoretical evaluation of Chávez’s political communication style was supported by 27 interviews to journalists, media owners, former Chavez’s ministers, opposition leaders, academics, and community leaders. She takes a culturalist approach to the case, studying the issue in terms of culture and power. Her aim is to develop an innovative study about the fascinating case of Hugo Chavez’s political communication.

Elena's research has been published in her book Political Communication and Leadership: Mimetisation, Hugo Chavez and the construction of power and identity (Routledge Studies in Global Information, Politics and Society) and is available for purchase online.