To date there is no agreement on a definition of populism in the social sciences. If political science deals with populism as a political ideology or a political strategy, sociology has not contributed substantially to the understanding of the societal backdrop of populism. The chapter focusses on this missing link. It reconstructs the ideal-typical aspects of the concept of populism by comparing different approaches used in current research. It then proposes a critical assessment of the societal developments related to the rise of populism. Amongst others, it addresses the following questions: Is populism a political expression of real or latent societal conflicts? Must the rise of populism be understood as a consequence of economic and political crisis? Is populism the cause or the result of a societal dynamic undermining the normative order of society?