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‘Sympathy for the devil’? Walking the tight rope in the study of the French National Front (2006–2008)

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Abstract

This article treats a particular aspect of the Front national (FN) that has been noticeably neglected to date in France: the understanding of this party in ‘campaigning mode’. From a methodological perspective, what lessons can be drawn from variation in the status of the researcher on the ground and at the time of the enquiry? Given this question, this article compares two research locations (the North-Flanders Federation and the local organization in Hénin-Beaumont in the Pas-de-Calais) to establish a cost–benefit analysis of the use of different modes of observation. (participant observation vs total immersion) and of two inherently distinct researcher–subject relationships. The article concludes by highlighting certain epistemological biases and pointing to concepts whose substance needs clarification: ‘participant observation’, ‘empathy’, ‘immersion’ and ‘infiltration’.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    One of the techniques employed to arrive at a relatively realistic percentage was to classify the reactions of a hundred people on a seven-point scale: from ‘very favourable’ to ‘very negative’. The operation was renewed two or three times.

  2. 2.

    Omar B., a travelling salesman, whom we had met during the first market visit (in Lomme), said in front of the cameras of France 3 that one of the youths had been in possession of a weapon but that he did not use it.

  3. 3.

    S. Briois swore that he heard no gunfire.

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Mermat, D. ‘Sympathy for the devil’? Walking the tight rope in the study of the French National Front (2006–2008). Fr Polit 7, 56–74 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1057/fp.2009.1

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Keywords

  • France
  • far right
  • electoral campaigns
  • methodology
  • qualitative analysis
  • political party