Sociology

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A psychosocial reflection on interacting with a far-right activist
Yutaka Yoshida

The matter of establishing rapport with research subjects involved in far-right movements presents a significant challenge to researchers, as they grapple with the conflicting demands of cultivating close proximity to their subjects while navigating stark ideological disparities, all while maintaining integrity. Some researchers have recognised shared experiences with far-right subjects, which are not unrelated to their ideologies, have enabled them to gather valuable data. The present study aims to contribute to the ongoing discussion regarding the establishment of rapport with far-right subjects, as well as explore the potential for humanising these subjects. By reflecting on my own interaction with a Japanese far-right activist and drawing upon a psychosocial perspective, this chapter elucidates how the interplay between commonalities and disparities, and the resulting tension between us, generate data that effectively captures the intricate nuances of the activist’s experiences. It argues that humanising the subject involves more than simply emphasising shared aspects between researchers and subjects; it necessitates an acknowledgement of the ambivalent nature of the researcher’s interaction with far-right activists. This ambivalence arises not only from the disparity in political standpoints but also from different trajectories of our respective lives. The nuanced recognition offers a more comprehensive understanding of the subjectivities of these individuals.

in The ethics of researching the far right
Omran Shroufi

This chapter aims to delineate some borders of what the far right is – and isn’t – to consolidate existing critique of far right studies, focusing in particular on four potential misconceptions: (1) Far-right politics is not just party politics – often taken as pars pro toto, far-right parties are in fact only part of the picture. They operate alongside far-right writers, academics, think tanks, and non-parliamentary organisations; (2) There is no essential good/bad, far right/non-far right dichotomy – the contemporary far right is not necessarily the single biggest or a uniquely dangerous threat to democracy. Furthermore, the borders between the far right and non-far right are highly permeable; (3) The ‘us’ and ‘them’ of the far right are contingent – far-right forces may look to defend ‘the nation’, but some depict whole continents or ‘civilisations’ as ‘us’. Similarly, demonised ‘others’ may become sought-after constituents as the far right turns its gaze elsewhere; (4) The far right is not uniform – far right parties and organisations differ in significant ways, both within and across countries, with some more or less extreme, racist, (neo)liberal, or protectionist. In essence, this chapter argues that reflective and critical research on the far right needs to highlight what is unique and particular about the far right without overlooking similarities with other actors across the political spectrum. Furthermore, researchers should be attentive that history will not always repeat itself identically and that far-right actors may represent or work for seemingly ‘non-far right’ parties and organisations.

in The ethics of researching the far right
Critical reflections from studying the Lega (Nord)
George Newth

A pressing ethical issue for the study of the far and extreme right is the need to move away from paradigms and approaches which euphemise racist ideology. Key to addressing this is a greater engagement on behalf of political science scholars with racism as an analytical concept. In this chapter, I draw on my experience researching the Italian populist far right Lega (Nord) and reflect on why racism has been largely absent in political science analyses of this party. These reflections highlight three issues which have impeded a consistent engagement with racism as an analytical concept; namely, a lack of reflexivity in terms of positionality and whiteness in political science; an over-emphasis on ‘right-wing’ turns which overlook connections between regionalism and nationalism, and how these can inform far-right ideology; and, finally, a tendency to (over/mis) use populism and nativism as analytical concepts while decentring more stigmatising and precise terms, such as racism. Far from being specific to the study of the Lega, however, I argue that these issues are a symptom of a wider malaise represented by political science’s neglect of racism as an analytical tool. Accordingly, I offer three tentative, non-prescriptive guidelines to encourage reflexivity and a less euphemising way of referring to the far and extreme right. These aim to encourage dialogue between scholars and students alike, and the pursuit of anti-racist paradigms to examine far- and extreme-right actors.

in The ethics of researching the far right
Our ethical duty to the othered
Ryan Switzer

Our ethical duty to ‘do no harm’ to our informants in ethnographic work is complicated by the ever-shifting nature of violence in our societies. In this contribution, I reflect on the definitions of far-right violence thus offered by scholarship before arguing for a more expansive definition. This expansion can open more opportunities for understanding more pernicious forms of racial violence. But it also draws our attention to narratives of violent victimisation consistently offered by far-right activists. Understanding the spectrum of far-right violence means (1) prioritising the study of the violence in stigmatisation and reverse victimisation at the individual level while (2) handling these ideas with care in order to avoid uncritically reproducing them.

in The ethics of researching the far right
Personal feelings in political life
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts
in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Abstract only
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

Following the EU referendum, scholars of British politics sought to understand the place of emotion in both the vote and the polarisation that followed. Yet, they were less reflective about their role in contributing to some of the narratives that underlay these divisions. In this concluding chapter, we reflect on the role of political studies itself within the politics of feeling surrounding Brexit. We summarise the argument of the book and suggest that, in order to really understand the way that Brexit was experienced as an emotional event, we need to look beyond aggregations of voters into homogeneous Leave and Remain camps and instead look at the way that feelings – and public narratives about those feelings – were understood by individuals.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Abstract only
Using an ‘archive of feeling’ to understand Brexit Britain
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

The EU referendum occasioned a great deal of public, and academic, debate about the proper place of feelings in political life. These broadly divided into two contradictory positions: that feelings should be suppressed in favour of reason and that they should be listened to as authentic reflections of our inner lives. In this introductory chapter, we briefly set these debates in historical context, showing how feelings have previously been conceptualised within British political traditions. We then introduce the Mass Observation Project and explain its particular value in recording (and shaping) the interaction between feeling and thinking in the ways citizens understand their experiences of politics. It allows us to get beyond these normative public narratives and understand how citizens of all political persuasions weighed, deployed, disavowed, and rejected feelings as a source of moral and political legitimacy. The final part of the chapter outlines the structure and the arguments of the book, and its contribution to studying both the specific narratives about the emotional politics of Brexit and the politics of feeling more broadly.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

In this chapter, we examine the stereotypes that emerged as people made sense of the referendum result, and the new political divisions emerging in its aftermath. Although, as we have seen, many Mass Observers turned to their feelings as a way of transcending the grubby world of politics and media bias, they were often deeply suspicious of the emotions of others, who they felt should have been more ‘rational’. This tendency was reinforced by the widespread tropes of the rational Remainer and the passionate Brexiteer. Although they did not reflect how feelings were actually deployed (in fact, both sides emphasised their own rationality and condemned their opponents’ feelings as unruly and disruptive to political norms), we show the power of these stereotypes in shaping citizens’ understandings of their own feelings and of those around them. This reinforced two not-quite-contradictory ideas: first, that feelings were a dangerous and base impulse, and second, that the only ‘true’ emotional response was that associated with a deeply racialised, classed, and anglicised construction of ‘ordinariness’ and of ‘the mood of the country’.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Abstract only
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

The period of the referendum campaign and its aftermath was experienced as a peculiarly emotional time, in which feelings carried both greater power and greater danger than usual. The referendum was also narrated as the result of a ‘public mood’ with particular political characteristics. These understandings of public moods provided a discursive frame through which individuals interpreted their own experiences of Brexit. The Mass Observation accounts make clear that this was an emotionally intense and destabilising period for many citizens; they also indicate a wide spectrum of feelings, from ‘elation’ to ‘distress’, as well as more ambivalent experiences of revulsion, boredom, and fatigue. We reflect on how voters made sense of these affective experiences, interpreting them not only through their pre-existing political frameworks but also through dominant cultural discourses about emotion and mental health, most notably anxiety. We also show that moods were messy and unpredictable. They could take individuals by surprise, re-shaping their political choices and identities. This challenges the idea that political positions on the referendum were fixed and irreconcilable.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain

During the Brexit debates, questions about the nation’s political future were continually framed in terms of feelings. The referendum was seen as a conflict between reason and resentment, fear and hope, heads and hearts. The eventual Leave vote was widely interpreted (by both its supporters and detractors) as the triumph of passion over rationality. Its aftermath was marked by intense concern about the feelings generated on both sides and their consequences for British political culture. The capacity of this question to tear through personal relations and to provoke emotional encounters between strangers became as much a part of the debate on Brexit as the political and economic issues it raised. These stories about feelings had political consequences. They shaped the way people experienced their own feelings and those of others. In this book, we listen to the stories of ‘ordinary’ people writing about their experiences of Brexit for the Mass Observation Project. We look at how they used public narratives about the role of feelings in political life to make sense of the referendum and its aftermath. But we also show how they resisted and re-made these stories as they interpreted their own feelings and the feelings they encountered (and imagined) in other people.