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Accepted Paper:

Tracing the Socio-Cultural Genealogies of Europe's Reactionary Backlash  


Annika Lems (Max Planck Institut for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

This paper engages with the panel's aim to cast a critical light on common explanatory models anthropologists deploy to make sense of the rise of right-wing political parties across Europe. It does so by zooming in on anti-liberal cultural practices in an Austrian mountain village.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I will present fresh findings from a research project that investigates the backlash against liberal and cosmopolitan agendas marking much of Europe's current political landscape. The Brexit referendum in the UK was the first in a succession of events throughout Europe that revealed how many people are craving the return to an idealised, imperial or authoritarian past - a past they believe holds a stronger sense of community and social cohesion. Against the backdrop of this political turmoil, a growing number of scholars and commentators argue that we are entering a postliberal era - an era of eroded support for liberal values such as individual freedom and diversity. In my paper I aim to complicate these common explanatory models. Based on fieldwork with heritage clubs in mountain villages in the South of Austria that form a traditional bastion for reactionary political movements, I will shed light on the kinds of histories people search out to create a sense of belonging and temporal cohesion. By looking into the socio-cultural genealogies underwriting illiberal cultural practices, I will trace the question of whether there has ever been a "pre" to what is widely assumed to be the aftermath of a liberal democratic era of modernity. Or put differently, is postliberalism a misconception that risks exceptionalising xenophobic and anti-liberal practices rather than actually addressing them?

Panel P131
Getting 'the Right' right: Comparative ethnographies of neo-nationalist movements in Europe