So close and yet so far. This week I managed to identify the problem statement and theoretical framework for my thesis, with the next vital step deciding upon my research question*. Once that signpost is established, I should be on my way: ready to begin the research itself. However, as I’ll explain in this post, I’m stuck at a crossroads, with too many research questions I’d like to ask (and answer).
Problem: while extensive literature shows (and seeks to explain) the increasing popularity of far-right parties in the European ‘periphery’, there’s still little research into the role they play when in power.
By the periphery, I mean places outside of the major globally networked cities, like ‘la France périphérique’ of Christophe Guilluy. Purpose: This paper would aim to fill this gap, and identify the distinctive behaviour of far-right parties in control of (‘peripheral’) European cities and the consequences for communities, particularly in relation to the factors which contribute to their growing popularity in the first place. Significance: We’re unprepared for increasing far-right control over European cities. This paper would help by analysing two ‘early adopter’ cities, providing an evidence base with which to engage non-mainstream parties and voters.
This study would be grounded in the idea there are localised social-psychological causes for support for the far-right.
Primarily, I’d use the the ‘social marginalisation’ theory, which emphasises feelings of relative deprivation and the desire to undo the changes brought about by modernisation. An important aggravating factor for such feelings of the marginalised is the fear of crime and insecurity, often powerfully merged with fears of migration and urban decline by the far-right. The sense of community has been shown to be the most powerful factor in affecting perceptions of crime, more so than actual crime levels in fact, as measured by the Sense of Community Index.
So you can see the theoretical framework which I would use, which combines these three theories and draws a link between the sense of community, the fear of crime and the support for the far-right among the socially marginalised. I would flip this theoretical direction around, with a new focus on ‘actually existing’ far-right urban governance, to see how the actions of these non-mainstream parties in power affect the sense of community throughout the city.
I proposed a research question of:
‘What are the effects of far-right urban governance on the sense of community’
Here’s the problem.
To answer it, there would be two essential sub-questions:
(A) What is the change in governance? Do voters get a new and distinctive, ‘non-mainstream’, set of policies for which they have voted? Is there an ‘actually existing’ far-right form of urban governance?
(B) What is the effect of the change? What are the consequences of the far-right policies that are implemented? Do these policies deliver protection for their socially marginalised voters, confront the perceived ‘urban diseases’ like rising crime, and promote a sense of community (albeit one that may be fundamentally exclusionary)?
Two is probably one too many and, to keep it manageable and crisp, I should stick to either A or B. Or perhaps it should rather be C, a question I haven’t yet decided upon? As ever, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on my predicament.
An update – part two – will follow next week, with a decision.
* There are lots of helpful (and free) resources out there to navigate these tricky initial steps of social science research; this free downloadable textbook by Anol Bhattacherjee is a good start.