dates de séjour
projet de recherche
For the love of a woman: Gender, Class and the French radical right
This project examines the growing popularity of the radical right Front National (FN) party, and its leader Marine Le Pen, in contemporary France. I ask how and why a woman leader, and the strongly gendered political imagery her party promotes, answers the class grievances of petty bourgeois and working class citizens who feel left behind in the wake of globalization and the cosmopolitan liberalism of the European Union. While scholarship on women’s participation in electoral politics has flourished, and while there is increasing attention to understanding the rise of radical right parties in Europe, these discrete research agendas miss a pivotal aspect in understanding support for the radical right in Europe. They do not examine how the field of politics is symbolically gendered, and how the rise of the radical right is itself a gendered process. Following six months of ethnographic research in the southeast of France, the party’s traditional heartland, and through two years of further interviews with FN members, I have found that FN supporters’ criticism of Muslim immigration and liberal economic policy is filtered through a critique of France’s elite political class. Issuespecific contestations are expressed as a critique of class. However, the critique of class undergoes a “transfiguration” to gender. FN adherents perceive political elites as the bourgeois products of France’s most prestigious universities, “men in suits” who are indistinguishable from one another despite party affiliation. They are the salaried career politicians, indistinguishable also from the European Union’s men in suits who are the ideological carriers of excessive liberalism in the policy domains of immigration and “EU-philia.” By contrast, Marine, as she is lovingly called by her supporters, is seen as a woman born for politics. Among party loyalists she is prized as the political daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party’s longstanding leader. 1 She is seen as having grown up within the party, and is thus a person for whom politics is eminently personal and passionate, as opposed to the male career politicians and cosmopolitan technocrats in Paris and Brussels. Older members speak of her in maternalistic and paternalistic terms. Younger members see her as the quintessential “modern woman”; a twice-divorced single mother who has had to make do in today’s troubled economy. New adherents, male and female, speak of a strong personal identification with her as a woman who understands their limited economic opportunities and the complexities of contemporary family life. She is a source of inspiration for them. The theme of Marine’s beauty is also a common one within FN circles. So is the view that she “incarnates” a new spirit of hope. For young and old she embodies a riposte to the distant men in suits running the country. FN imagery presents the elite political class in masculinized, rational-bureaucratic terms. A 2012 presidential campaign poster illustrates this symbolic terrain. It portrays Marine Le Pen as a radiant woman in the centre of the poster, while above her stand the other presidential candidates from across the political spectrum, all shadowy “men in suits” (see Appendix, Image 1). In turn, FN adherents seize upon highly feminized political symbolism in order to articulate their critique of the elite political class and its ideologies. In this way gendered political symbolism answers class grievances. With the support of a European Commission Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (temporarily paused due to a maternity leave) I have already pursued ethnographic research and am continuing with interviews focusing on the largely petty bourgeois FN 1 I am following how Marine Le Pen’s recent public break from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is affecting her position in the party. Dorit Geva Central European University 2 supporters in the southeast of France. During the spring and summer of 2016, I will conduct ethnographic research and interviews focusing on the deindustrializing northwest of France. Unlike the southeast, northwestern towns like Hénin-Beaumont are working class towns transitioning from a decades-long alliance with the Socialist party to support for the Front National. By paying particular attention to the specific structural and symbolic features of contemporary French politics, the project therefore aims to understand more general features of gender, class and politics, and the contemporary crisis in democratic politics.
After completing a Ph.D. in Sociology at New York University, Dorit was the Vincent Wright Fellow in Comparative Politics at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute (2006-2007), followed by four years as a Collegiate Assistant Professor, and Harper Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago (2007-2011) teaching social theory in the College Core. She joined the Central European University as an Assistant Professor in Autumn 2011. Dorit's expertise is in political sociology, comparative and historical sociology, economic sociology, and feminist social theory. Her comparative book on the politics of military service in France and the United States was published by Cambridge University Press in autumn 2013. Her new research, supported by a European Commission Marie Curie Career Integration Grant, is following the gender politics of right-wing parties and movements in France, and in Europe at large. She is also embarking on a new project on Crypto Currencies.