This paper takes up the challenge posed in recent commentary concerning the nature or ontology of populism. I suggest that we need to take a sociological approach that seeks to locate populism within the wider processes and tendencies associated with late modernity in order to fully capture not only what populism is, but also why we are seeing a greater prevalence of populism around the world. I locate populism in relation to five dominant tendencies: The decline of traditional authority structures; the rise of individualisation; the growth of bureaucracy and complexification; the intensification of globalisation and the emergence of a new media ecology. These processes together are creating enormous strains on representative democracy, leading to “democratic grievance”. Those who are represented become uncoupled from their own representatives, leaving a vacuum which is increasingly filled by populist initiatives. Populism thus needs to be read as a symptom of an intensifying crisis of democracy, as much as a cause of it.