Tracing the emergence of far right discourse in the UK mainstream

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


The aim of my research is to provide a comprehensive analysis of how the language of the far right has emerged in mainstream discourse in the UK since 1990. Far right political parties have recently experienced a growth in support throughout Europe. This growth has received increasing attention in academic literature, and researchers have pointed to the "normalization" of far right ideologies by the "mainstream" as both a cause and consequence of their increasing popularity. Many have found a causal relationship between the success of these parties and the shifting of mainstream parties' policy positions towards the far right, particularly on issues such as multiculturalism and immigration. However, little attention has been paid to how these changes have occurred over time and how they relate to society's shifting notions of acceptability and normality. The way that political ideas are discussed - the frames, vocabulary and rhetoric used - is a significant source of information in understanding the increasing salience of far right ideologies. Despite this, a systematic review of the effect of the far right on mainstream discourse has not yet been conducted. A historical analysis of political discourse news media is particularly urgent, given its power to shape public conversation and public policy.
This project will answer the following research questions:
1. What are the discursive characteristics of the far right in the UK?
2. What has been the cumulative effect of the far right on mainstream political discourse? Are British politicians and journalists talking about far right ideas in a different way than they were in 1990 and if so, how did these changes progress?

The primary methodology will be a corpus-informed critical discourse analysis (CDA) applied to existing databases (corpora) of British newspapers and political speeches. Corpus-informed CDA is a triangulation of techniques from corpus linguistics (CL) - the quantitative analysis of large collections of machine-readable text - and CDA - the interdisciplinary study of language use in its social context. This methodology involves a recursive sequence of CL techniques, analysing keyword frequency and dispersion to establish key topics, followed by a critical analysis of a smaller set of representative texts. This can uncover patterns in linguistic data and reveal incremental shifts in language which would be imperceptible to everyday readers and to academics analysing only a small number of texts.

This research will extend the scope of far-right studies by establishing the importance of language in the normalization process, going beyond marginal movements to focus on mainstream society and providing new insight into the power of media to shape political thought and action. This project will illuminate the importance of language awareness, and a key priority will be to engage journalists, policy-makers, charities and think tanks in establishing collaborative research aims from the outset and to provide practical recommendations with regards to language use in public communications and policies. The research will thereby allow these stakeholders to assess the impact of their rhetorical choices at a moment when the utilization of far-right discourse might unintentionally accelerate their normalization.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2229501 Studentship ES/P000630/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2023 Florence Bremner