Comparatively researching right and left-wing political radicalism: the challenges of being a critical researcher and a politically-committed scholar
(The Graduate Center, City University of New York)
Paper short abstract:
This paper draws on initial findings and interpretations from my ethnographic fieldwork in Merthyr Tydfil, UK. I reflect on negotiating the tensions arising from being a critical researcher and a politically-committed scholar comparatively researching right and left-wing political radicalism.
Paper long abstract:
This paper draws on initial findings and interpretations from my ethnographic research in Merthyr Tydfil, UK - a former center of coal and steel production, and of working-class mobilization, which has struggled for several decades as a mid-sized, post-industrial town in the South Wales Valleys. In the EU Brexit referendum, nearly 60% of Merthyr Tydfil's residents voted for the right-wing populist 'Leave' campaign, yet a year later, in the 2017 UK General Election, the majority of residents voted for a resurgent left-wing Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn. These fluctuating dynamics in Merthyr Tydfil represent the collapse of the political center, and the ongoing crises of representative democracy and oppositional politics crippling Brexit Britain and other liberal democracies. In response to these material and psychological conditions, my research attends to how residents of Merthyr Tydfil are seeking meaning and purpose through participation in resurgent populist parties and grass-roots movements - both right and left-wing "radical" parties and movements mobilizing the alienated and discontented electorate. In this paper, I examine the complex factors motivating my research participants' political affiliations, regardless of their political views, while also accounting for how my opposition to far-right populism and support for radical, left-wing politics informs and impacts my dynamics with my research participants and the content of my research. In this way, I reflect on how I have negotiated the tensions arising from my positionality as both a critical researcher and a politically-committed scholar comparatively researching right and left-wing political radicalism.
Boring white people or fascinating bad guys? Lessons from the study of political radicalism [PACSA]