Vanessa Tautter
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Ethics of listening
Between criticism and empathy in oral history interviews and politically charged research contexts
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This chapter critically explores the ethics of listening in oral history research that investigates meanings of reactionary discourses in wider society between violent political representations of the past and personal family (hi-)stories. It builds on my work on the politics of memory in Austria relating to Nazism, Nazi crimes, and World War II. While my interviewees generally opposed the political mobilisation of these memories by the far right, they nonetheless sometimes still drew on similar violent discourses when composing their own family histories. In this context, this chapter reflects on the relationship – and conflict – between criticism and empathy emerging in such intersubjective work in politically charged research settings. On the one hand, I aim to listen to my ‘non-elite’ interviewees on their ‘own’ terms, in their ‘own’ language to genuinely engage with their perspectives, critically, but also empathically beyond reductionist cliches and condescension. However, as some of them also draw on discourses linked to relativising and violent representations of the past in their narrations, such listening has important political and ethical implications. This chapter reflects critically on the meaning and ethical problems of listening in the context of discursive violence that is firmly grounded in the contemporary and historical structures of society. It also problematises my own positionality as an Austrian researcher who is not directly targeted by these forms of violence. Despite my focus on Austria, I hope that this chapter will also offer insights, raise questions, and facilitate further discussion on similar ethical challenges more broadly.

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The ethics of researching the far right

Critical approaches and reflections

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