On September 25-27, the Austrian and Swedish members of work package 4 Media, Machines, Mobilisations met up in Malmö for three intensive days of discussions and workshopping. We made progress on the conceptual framework undergirding the work ahead and prepared for our first deliverable. And (most) importantly, we had time to get to know each other, eat Austrian chocolate and visit a few of the best local culinary hotspots. Malmö offered late summer sunrays, allowing for short strolls around the city centre to clear our heads, and a traditional Scandinavian-style visit to the sauna.
We kicked off the first day with three detailed presentations of the country-cases that constitute the empirical starting point for the work conducted in the WP – Sweden, Austria and Bulgaria. The presentations gave us insights into the historical backdrop and recent political developments in each national context. This was an opportunity to get a first glimpse into the kind of extreme narratives that are currently emerging around emotive hot button issues such as migration, gender and climate change and how extremist beliefs and ideas are increasingly intercepting with people’s everyday life across Europe. Already, we were able to identify interesting similarities and differences across the three regions.
Day two was dedicated to outlining the research design and translating it into an action plan for the deliverables we have ahead of us. We decided to pursue a stepwise approach to conceptualising everyday extremism from an interdisciplinary perspective of critical social scientific research. This, to us, entails starting out by exploring the parameters of first ‘the everyday’ and then ‘extremism’ including questions of how to capture these dimensions empirically before proceeding to conceptualise everyday extremism as this is articulated as one of the key concepts of OppAttune. As such, we consider this phase of our project an iterative and open-ended process throughout which we approach everyday extremism from two different perspectives concurrently.
In the first, we critically engage with the idea of extremism from the perspective of media and communication studies and data science by identifying key extremist narratives as they circulate in the digital spaces that people spend time in and engage with as part of their everyday lives online. As part of this work, we take into consideration how extremist ideas are often ‘cloaked’ or guised in irony and ambiguity as they travel back and forth between different spaces and platforms. Over the last few months, the team has identified relevant online spaces that will constitute the basis for the data collection online. These include but are not limited to platforms such as Reddit, TikTok and YouTube and ‘local’ discussion forums such as Flashback Forum and dir.bg.
Extremist ideas are often ‘cloaked’ or guised in irony and ambiguity
as they travel back and forth between different spaces and platforms
From the perspective of urban geography and drawing of the principles of ethnographic research, we approach ‘the everyday’ as it unfolds in the lived and local environments of citizens in cities across Europe asking how extremist narratives make their way into urban spaces e.g., via stickers, banners, graffiti, tags or other visual ephemera and influence everyday life there. This two-pronged approach focusing on how narratives traverse online/offline contexts allows us to make connections between online and locality-based realities ‘on the ground’ in Malmö, Sofia and Vienna.
Our deliverables, we agreed, should contribute empirically and theoretically to different aspects of this research puzzle. The first deliverable – a visualisation report of emerging extremist narratives across Europe due in December 2023 –is an exciting, innovative starting point for our research journey. In this report, we focus on the online dimension with the goal of identifying and mapping contemporary extremist narratives from a regional perspective, covering northern (Sweden), central (Austria) and eastern Europe (Bulgaria). The Visualisation Report is based on secondary data from government agencies, civil society organisations and other independent non-profit research actors as well as a systematic literature review offering a synthesis of existing knowledge in this area and on these country contexts specifically. Based on these insights, we will map the key topics and actors around which extremist narratives are currently circulating across Europe. Empirically, we will present preliminary insights from the study of online discussions on the topic of migration in each of the countries based on the first data collection and topic modelling performed by WP4 members from the Jozef Stefan Institute (JSI) in Slovenia.
In summary, each report in the Media, Machines, Mobilisations – Work Package will focus on a different aspect of our main research question and add another piece to the puzzle of our take on everyday extremism. The first report is topic-driven in that it focuses on extremist narratives around contentious topics as they circulate online in specific national contexts. The second report is event-driven and has a distinct translocal perspective focusing on narratives emerging around the 2024 European Parliament elections across countries and across on- and offline spaces. The third deliverable focuses on everyday negotiations and meaning-making processes around contentious issues within urban environments and explores everyday extremism from the vantage point of specific spaces and localities across Europe. We intend to continue discussing how this structuring principle of topic-, event- and space-driven approaches might inform the various studies and organise the work ahead of us.
Miriam Haselbacher, Jullietta Stoencheva, Ursula Reeger and Tina Askanius