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Taking Far-Right Claims Seriously and Literally: Anthropology and the Study of Right-Wing Radicalism

  • Agnieszka Pasieka

Departing from an overview of current mass media discourse on the far right, this article suggests why and how social scientists could contribute to a better understanding of current socio-political changes. In presenting an anthropological perspective, it discusses methodological, conceptual, and ethical challenges to conducting research on and with radical right-wing activists and supporters.

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1. “League of Nationalists,” The Economist, November 19, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

2. Ishaan Tharoor, “The West’s Major Cities Are a Bulwark Against the Tide of Right-wing Nationalism,” The Washington Post, November 22, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

3. Joerg Schulze, “The Far Right: A Nationalist International?,” BBC, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

4. Andrea Bonanni, “La Valanga Populista Minaccia la Vecchia Europa,” La Repubblica, September 5, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

5. Paul Mason, “The Far Right is Weaselling into the Mainstream, Dressed up in Suits,” The Guardian, May 2, 2016 at (last accessed May 2, 2017). My emphasis.

6. It might be worth adding that the borderline between academic/non-academic discussions is increasingly blurred, given the growing amount of scholarly exposure in non-academic journals and other media.

7. However, it should be noted that in certain disciplinary contexts, such as history, the emphasis on the transnational actually preceded the recent interest in transnationalism.

8. E.g. Appadurai, Arjun, Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis, 1996); Hannerz, Ulf, Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places (London, 1996); Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World (New York, 2003); Randeria, Shalini, “Entangled Histories of Uneven Modernities: Civil Society, Case Councils, and Legal Pluralism in Postcolonial India,” in Haupt, Heinz-Gerhard and Kocka, Jürgen, eds., Comparative and Transnational History: Central European Approaches and New Perspectives, (New York, 2009), 77104 ; Levitt, Peggy and Schiller, Nina Glick, “Conceptualizing simultaneity: A Transnational Social Field Perspective on Society,” International Migration Review 38, no. 3, (Fall 2004): 1002–39.

9. For approaches to transnationalism in history, see, Philipp Ther, “Comparisons, Cultural Transfers and the Study of Networks: Towards a Transnational History of Europe,” in Haupt and Kocka, Comparative and Transnational History, 204–25; Kocka, Jürgen, “Comparison and Beyond,” History and Theory 42, no. 1 (February 2003): 3944 ; Clavin, Patricia, “Defining Transnationalism,” Contemporary European History 14, no. 4 (November 2005): 421–39. For the discussions on the “dark sides of transnationalism,” see Patel, Kiran Klaus and Reichardt, Sven, “The Dark Side of Transnationalism: Social Engineering and Nazism, 1930s–40s,” Journal of Contemporary History 51, no. 1 (January 2016): 321 .

10. See: Finchelstein, Federico, Transatlantic Fascism: Ideology, Violence, and the Sacred in Argentina and Italy, 1919–1945 (Durham, 2010); Mammone, Andrea, Transnational Neofascism in France and Italy (Cambridge, Eng., 2015).

11. Such an approach is common in most edited collections on far right. See, e.g.: Mammone, Andrea, Godin, Emmanuel and Jenkins, Brian eds., Mapping the Extreme Right in Contemporary Europe: From Local to Transnational (London, 2012); Mering, Sabine von and McCarty, Timothy, eds., Right-wing Radicalism Today: Perspectives from Europe and the US (London, 2013); Wodak, Ruth, Khosravinik, Majid and Mral, Brigitte eds., Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse (London, 2013).

12. For analyses of internet, see Caiani, Manuela and Kröll, Patricia, “The Transnationalization of the Extreme Right and the Use of the Internet,” International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 39, no. 4 (October 2015): 331–51. For a very interesting example on symbolic and discursive borrowing, see Doerr, Nicole, “Bridging Language Barriers, Bonding against Immigrants: A Visual Case Study of Transnational Network Publics Created by Far-right Activists in Europe,” Discourse and Society 28, no. 1 (January 2017): 323 .

13. Clavin, “Defining transnationalism,” 422.

14. Bauernkämper, Arnd, “Interwar Fascism in Europe and Beyond: Toward a Transnational Radical Right,” in Durham, Martin and Power, Margaret, eds., New Perspectives on the Transnational Right, (New York, 2010), 40. See also: Reinisch, Jessica, “Introduction: Agents of Internationalism,” Contemporary European History 25, no. 2 (May 2016): 195205 .

15. Such an argument is put forward for example by Grumke, Thomas, “Globalized anti-globalists: The Ideological Basis of the Internationalization of Right-wing Extremism,” in Von Mering, Sabine and McCarty, Timothy, eds., Right-Wing Radicalism Today: Perspectives from Europe and the US, (Abingdon, Oxon, 2013), 1321 . What is also problematic about such approaches is a simplifying view of globalization as “frightening” and its enemies (far-right supporters) as emotionally responding to the threat of losing identity and traditions.

16. On Ukrainian-Croatian cooperation, see: Motyka, Grzegorz, Wołyń ’43: Ludobójcza czystka - fakty, analogie, polityka historyczna (Krakow, 2016); on Italian-Croatian cooperation, see Yeomans, Rory, “The Adventures of an Ustasha Youth Leader in the Adriatic: Transnational Fascism and the Travel Polemics of Dragutin Gjurić,” Journal of Tourism History 6, no. 2/3 (August–November 2015): 158173 ; on Moldavian-Croatian, see: Schmitt, Oliver, “‘Balkan-Wien’—Versuch einer Verflechtungsgeschichte der politischen Emigration aus den Balkanländern im Wien der Zwischenkriegszeit (1918–1934),” Südost-Forschungen 73, no. 1 (2016): 268305 .

17. Quote from the speech by Hungarian fascist Gyula Julius Gömbös (1919), in Nagy-Talavera, Nicholas M., The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Romania (Iasi, Romania, 2001). “Moscow” in this quote stands for bolshevism, and as such it resembles anti-communist stands of present-day far right, who, while opposing communist, are not necessarily anti-Russian even as some of them actively cooperate with Russian far right.

18. Such pictures were exposed, for instance, during anti-refugee demonstrations. See Fergal Keane, “Migrant Crisis: Is Germany Far Right Rise Echo of the Past,” BBC, December 19, 2015, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

19. Such articles began appearing long before he was elected (See Bret Stephens, “The Return of the 1930s,” The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017); Paul Mason, “Are We Living through Another 1930s?,” The Guardian, August 1, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

20. It is sometimes observed that anti-Islamism replaced anti-Semitism, but I would argue that it rather supplemented anti-Semitic discourses, contributing to a discussion about the enemies of Christianity.

21. See Robert Kagan, “This is How Fascism Comes to America,” The Washington Post, May 18, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017); Owen Jones, “Hungary’s Chilling Plight Could Foreshadow Europe’s Future,” The Guardian, October 13, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017); John Lichfield, “Why We Should Be Scared of Marine Le Pen’s Front National,” The Independent, December 8, 2015, at (last accessed May 2, 2017). For a critical take on such comparisons, see: Dirk Kurbjuweit, “How Much Mussolini Is There in Donald Trump?,” Spiegel Online, November 24, 2016 at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

22. Gregor, A. James, The Search for Neofascism: The Use and Abuse of Social Science (Cambridge, Eng., 2006), 1516 .

23. Müller, Jan-Werner, What is Populism? (Philadelphia, 2016).

24. Which does not mean that their discourses and practices do not bear resemblances to some fascist ideas.

25. For a discussion on terminology and classifications, see: Blee, Kathleen and Creasap, Kimberly, “Conservative and Right-Wing Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology 36 (2010): 269–86; Caiani, Manuela and Porta, Donatella Della, “The elitist populism of the extreme right: A frame Analysis of Extreme Right-wing Discourses in Italy and Germany,” Acta Politica 46, no. 2 (April 2011): 180202 ; Minkenberg, Michael, “The Renewal of the Radical Right: Between Modernity and Anti-modernity,” Government and Opposition 35, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 170–88; Ghodsee, Kristen, “Left Wing, Right Wing, Everything: Xenophobia, Neo-totalitarianism and Populist Politics in Bulgaria,” Problems of Post-Communism, 55, no. 3 (May/June 2008): 2639 .

26. Harding, Susan, “Representing Fundamentalism: The Problem of the Repugnant Cultural Other,” Social Research 58, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 373393 .

27. On far-right supporters as emotional, see Müller, What is Populism?, 16; on far-right activists as delinquents, see Shoshan, Nitzan, The Management of Hate: Nation, Affect, and the Governance of Right-wing Extremism in Germany (Princeton, 2016).

28. Eriksen, Thomas H., “Overheating: The World Since 1991,” History and Anthropology 27, no. 5 (December 2016): 469–87.

29. For example, in Eriksen, “Overheating,” 479–80, Eriksen suggests: “. . . cultural relativism can no longer be an excuse for not engaging existentially with the victims of patriarchal violence in India, human right lawyers in African prisons, minorities demanding not just cultural survival but fair representation in their governments.”

30. See: Harding, “Representing Fundamentalism”; Giordano, Christian, “I Can Describe Those I Don’t Like Better than Those I Do: ‘Verstehen’ as a Methodological Principle in Anthropology,” Anthropological Journal on European Cultures 7, no. 1 (1998): 2741 . According to Giordano, the “populist syndrome” manifests in the studies of discriminated groups with whom anthropologists empathize and (over)identify.

31. See, for example, Blee, Kathleen, “Evidence, Empathy and Ethics: Lessons from Oral Histories of the Klan,” Journal of American History, 80, no. 2 (September 1993): 596606 . Blee engages with oral history’s method of “romantic assumptions” about the subjects of history from the bottom and, drawing on her own research experiences, discusses certain unexpected dilemmas of research on racism.

32. Hann, Chris, “The Fragility of Europe’s Willkommenskultur,” Anthropology Today 31, no. 6 (December 2015): 12 .

33. Hochschild, Arlie R., Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (New York, 2016).

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Slavic Review
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