Society for the Anthropology of North America
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
What constitutes the right-wing? Where, and among whom, can it be located? In the contemporary American political landscape, the constellations of political stances that have commonly been used to identify left-wing and right-wing alignments are increasingly inadequate. As early instantiations of the “alt-right” have made apparent, right-wing movements are not always immediately legible as such — often not even to their participants. In this paper, I trace the emergence of right-wing logics and discourses in one such unanticipated context: the social media platform, Tumblr.
While the platform was not originally designed with such intentions, Tumblr is often viewed as an enclave of social justice activism (McCracken 2017) and many credit it with shaping their political ideals. However, since 2015, there has been a widening schism within Tumblr’s social justice community, along various ideological fault lines. Despite still being glossed as “committed to social justice”, I argue that one of the nascent political-ethical projects emerging from this fracturing is fundamentally right-wing in its underlying logics. The emergence of this new political-ethical project has gone largely unremarked upon on account of the fact that, in terms of referential lexicon, the relevant moral categories and sentiments remain unchanged. In this paper, I take up an ethnographically informed discourse-analytic approach to demonstrate that the linguistic styles and structures deployed in political discourse on Tumblr reveal underlying conservative commitments. Ultimately, I suggest that anthropology and ethnography have the capacity to study right-wing movements not just as they exist, but as they are potentially becoming.