The mobilisation of gender by radical right and far right populist organisations (AFSP)

Deadline: 12/12/2018

Sciences Po Bordeaux, 2-4 July 2019

Co-convenors of the panel:

Christèle LAGIER, Maîtresse de conférence de science politique (Université d’Avignon, France) : christele.lagier@univ-avignon.fr

Francesca SCRINZI, Senior Lecturer, Sociology, University of Glasgow, UK: Francesca.Scrinzi@glasgow.ac.uk

Keywords: Far right ; radical right ; Gender ; Leadership; Activism ; Social movements ; Populism

The notion of ‘populist right-wing’ is employed here for ease of use, in an exploratory perspective and not as an analytical concept. ‘Populism’ is a controversial category, which however appears as relevant in the current global context to describe diverse political formations and movements presenting significant transnational continuities. In Europe, there is heated academic debate on the usefulness of the notion of ‘populism’, which is used to define highly different phenomenon (Fassin 2017; Mouffe, 2016 ; Akkerman, Mudde, Zaslove, 2014).

Gender emerges as a significant (and largely understudied) dimension of current developments in populist radical right and far right politics in Western Europe. These maledominated organizations, historically championing traditional models of the family, paradoxically frame their anti-immigration agenda as a struggle for gender equality, depicting Islam as incompatible with women’s rights, and Muslims migrants as backward on gender matters (Meret and Siim 2013). Through this new and paradoxical mobilization of gender issues, radical right parties and far right organizations aim at addressing a wider audience beyond its traditional (largely male) constituency and membership, and at ‘normalizing’ their public image (Kitschelt and McGann 1997). In many countries, the traditional ‘gender gap’ in the electoral support of populist radical right parties has progressively narrowed and, in some contexts, has come, at least temporarily, to a close (Barisione and Mayer 2013). New female leaders mobilize stereotypes of women as caring and non-aggressive, countering the stigmatization of these groups. There is some evidence that the number of women their members is growing (Köttig and al. 2017). While a substantial literature exists on the ‘gender gap’ in the electoral support of populist radical right parties, there is a paucity of studies onthe gendered dimensions of the ideology of these organizations as well as on their membership (Avanza 2009, Scrinzi 2017).

Gender is studied here from a sociological point of view to analyze the feminization of far right and radical right politics. How does gender impact on men’s and women’s participation in these movements? What is the role played by gender in the internal struggles within these organizations and in the competition to secure legitimacy in institutional political field? We also want to discuss the uses of gender in political communication and propaganda. This panel mobilises gender studies to tackle the transformations – real, claimed, analyzed, dreamed or fantasized - of radical right and far right populist organisations.

The papers will use different methodological approaches and will focus on one of the two broad areas of research below.

1. First, we intend to assess the role of gender in the trajectories and practices of the members of these organizations. On the one hand, gender shapes the motives for affiliation, the activists ‘careers’ and the division of work within these organizations. On the other, political engagement and activism can redefine the public/private divide and affect gender relations in other spheres such as the family and work (Fillieule and Roux 2009). Populist radical right and far right organizations construct, reproduce and transform gender at the interplay with other unequal social relations, shaping differential symbolic and material opportunities for men and women of different classes, sexualities and ages, to join and use their ideologies to make sense of their lives (Bacchetta and Power 2002, Blee 2002). How does gender shape the experiences and motives of activists, and how is it transformed or reproduced within these organizations? How does the instrumental mobilization of gender issues by these organizations interplay with the recruitment of new generations of members? To what extent do female leaders in these organizations challenge charismatic masculine models of leadership which have traditionally been associated with these organizations (Meret et alii, 2016)?

2. Secondly, the papers will focus on the strategic uses of gender in the field of political communication. Gender is a distinctive feature in the political field, increasing or decreasing the value of candidacies (Achin and Béréni, 2009). It is at the core of struggles for political positions for attracting voters/activists. By a strange turnaround – and more probably misappropriation - of stigma (Goffman, 1975), gender become a ‘contingent attribute’ (Dulong and Lévêque, 2002) in media-friendly ultra-male political landscape (Boudillon, 2005). To what extent can the claim of representing women support a process of “modernization” of the public image of these organizations, which historically champion traditional models of gender and the family, or even express antifeminist positions? To what extent does this mobilization of the themes of gender equality and women’s rights contribute to obscure political issues or to racialise social relations ? Is this new gendered discourse effective in securing new constituencies and memberships for these organizations (Givens 2004; Sineau, 2014; Amengay Abdelkarim et al., 2017)? Or does it simply expand theirtraditional support in conservative audiences (Blee, MacGee Deutsch, 2012)? What is the role of gender issues in their propaganda and political programs, and how are these related to other issues and claims in their discourses? Have their discourses and programmes on gender evolved over time?

All methodological approaches are welcome. The analysis of a digital corpus will be valued (analysis of discourses, messages or public relations, images, tweets, press releases, blogs, websites…). Web 2.0 is now a primary stage where these strategic identities are spread (Bouron, 2017; Dezé 2015; 2011). Qualitative and ethnographic approaches exploring gender social relationships hinge on others social relationships (class, age, ethnicity, sexuality) (Fillieule and Roux 2009) will be particularly welcome.

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