Society for the Anthropology of North America
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
Anthropologist, assuming a moral high ground by default, generally find it difficult to sympathize with the followers and activists of right-wing movements. This tendency becomes more critical when researchers take the normative role of an anti-populist and adopt a crusader-like duty of countering, or at least taming, the "barbarians at the gates". The ensuing "moral and affective distance" is especially problematic for the ethnographic methodology which heavily relies on the trust of, empathic relationship with and the hospitality of the informants. Accompanying Internal conundrums of the ethnographer between the concerns of complicity, duplicity, and the concern for giving voice to the hate speech, coupled with the populists' conspiratorial distrust with the "elite", well explains the very limited number of studies that target populists directly, which too often approach the issue through the victims of populist politics. This paper will draw from my ethnographic field study among the members of Italian right-wing political party, the League, and tell the story of how a Muslim-Turkish anthropologist constructed long-lasting friendships with the supposedly anti-Turk and anti-Muslim populists to discuss ensuing methodological and ethical issues. Rather than offering conclusive prescriptions, this paper aims to ignite a conversation between normative and interpretive approaches to anthropology to discuss how ethnographers can position themselves as critical yet emphatic to their informants by taking the French proverb as the guide: understanding everything is not forgiving everything.