Rapport, Respect, and Dissonance: Studying the White POWER Movement in the United States

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Lisa WALDNER, University of St. Thomas, USA
Betty DOBRATZ, Iowa State University, USA
We examine the advantages and disadvantages of conducting field work with the highly stigmatized white power movement in the United States and ultimately argue that field work is important to achieve a more complete understanding of racist movements.  Building rapport and trust is typically viewed as desirable in the relationship between researcher and those studied (Riecken in McCall and Simmons 1969:44).  However how much rapport should one develop with highly stigmatized white power groups?   At times, Simi (Sim and Futrell 2015:135) experienced internal dissonance when he outwardly portrayed himself as sympathetic in spite of deep personal feelings of opposition to racism. We consider the research technique of identifying certain shared concerns with those studied.  For example, the racist populist movement members and researchers might both be critical of the power business leaders and transnational corporations wield.  Perlstein’s (1995) article “Sleeping with the Enemy:  Academia Faces the Far Right” identified issues such as the researcher being perceived as complicit with one’s subjects and giving the movement a sense of legitimacy. However Perlstein also suggested studying such movements fulfilled “a scholarly imperative” (p. 81).   Is something being missed if social scientists do not extensively interview and observe white power movement supporters?  We argue that in-depth analysis of the movement is more difficult if one does not interact with movement members. If one attends white power rallies, meetings or celebrations, one has a better grasp of how and why these events occur and what results from them.  One could observe such events promoting not only group solidarity but potentially also revealing the conflicts among movement groups and members. Greater potential exists for high quality intensive examination of racist movements if one engages in face-to-face interaction with movement supporters.