'Talking with' and 'talking about' the far right: putting the mainstream back into mainstreaming

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Politics, Languages and Int Studies


It is widely acknowledged in political debate, the media and academia that the far right has enjoyed increased success over recent years in Europe. Indeed, the League's entrance into coalition government in Italy, the role of UKIP in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union and Marine Le Pen's progression to the second round of the 2017 presidential elections in France, for example, indicate its growing influence. However, a focus on the electoral gains of far-right parties has led to misperceptions, including both exaggerations and underestimations, about the extent and nature of its impact on European politics. Discursive studies investigating this trend have largely focused on the ways in which far-right parties have adapted and 'softened' their rhetoric to appeal to a broader audience, appear less extreme and hence, reduce the stigma attached to them. While the internal strategy of modifying party discourse is important, the process of mainstreaming is more complex and requires further exploration. As such, my PhD seeks to shift the emphasis away from far-right parties themselves and explore the system in which they, or more specifically their ideas, are allowed to flourish. It specifically focuses on the role of mainstream elites within politics, the media and academia in creating this receptive environment. A mixed-methods approach is adopted, combining Critical Discourse Studies with Discourse Theory and Corpus Linguistics, to explore how the external processes of (1) 'talking with' and (2) 'talking about' the far right can lead to its normalisation, not simply from an electoral perspective, but more insidiously in terms of the ideas it purports. 'Talking with' refers to the appropriation of far-right discourse by mainstream elites, underlining that mainstreaming is not a unidirectional process. 'Talking about' examines the ways in which these parties/ideas are described by mainstream elites, investigating how the use of ambiguous or ill-defined terminology can serve to facilitate the normalisation process. Given that the Brexit referendum involved the convergence of 'mainstream' and far-right politicians around a common goal and has been the subject of intense media and academic scrutiny, it serves as a highly relevant case study to explore these issues. Critically, while 'talking with' and 'talking about' may increase the chance of electoral success for far-right parties, these two processes must be understood as a form of ideological success in their own right. Although more difficult than electoral results to quantify and identify concretely, the power of such discursive influence must not be underestimated and needs to be challenged. The actions of the mainstream are therefore central to the growing influence of the far right in Europe. Only by placing the 'mainstream' at the core of our understanding of mainstreaming can appropriate counterstrategies be devised if one wishes to stem the tide.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1930364 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/12/2021 Katherine Jane Brown