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Investigate at extreme right : Between total immersion and participant observations, the example of French National Front (2006-2008)
Mermat, Djamel

Uploaded 07-18-2008
Keywords France
Far right
electoral campaigns
Participant observation
Political party.
Abstract There is a particular situation involving the NF that has been noticeably neglected to date in France: the capture live of the motivations and actions of these new partisans who rallied to the movement during the last three years (Glenn, 2005: 35-43). We must also recognize that enabling us to understand this party in "campaigning mode," there is insufficient knowledge. Nonetheless, if we hope to remedy these basic two weaknesses, what methods could researchers employ? Consequently, what can political science methodology eventually learn from an adjustment in the status of the researcher on the ground and at the time of the inquiry? More precisely: what advantages do participant observation employed almost daily offer? What are the basic contributions of total immersion in the "Frontist" environment? Given these questions, we wanted, based on comparative qualitative research, to explain what fund the validity of the results obtained (Kent, 2001), through establishing a cost-benefit analysis of the use of two different methods, of two inherently quite distinct presentations. Indeed, the result very rarely mentions the researcher's many ups and downs. However, the successes and inevitable failures of the ethnographic investigation condition the nature of the data collected. Therefore, this is an attempt to address several methodological deficiencies or silences, and to reverse certain epistemological biases, through returning to concepts whose substance needs clarification: "participant observation," "empathy," "total immersion," and "infiltration." All the underpinnings of the research do, however, draw attention to the manner in which the political analyst created his methodology and analytical categories, as well as his own approach to the subject under study. As a result, at first we will emphasize the difference in scale between our two research fields, since it led to our adoption of another approach to the subject (I). Thus, we first chose as our research location the North Flanders Federation from June 2006 to the start of November 2007, the beginning of the presidential campaign, up to the presentation of the assessment of the local councillors. Still, from the month of June 2007, and without abandoning our initial site, we progressively accorded increasing attention to the "new partisans" supporting Marine Le Pen and Steeve Briois in the 14th constituency of Pas-de-Calais, in particular in the city of Henin-Beaumont. In the first week of December 2007, this led us to commence our exploration of the diversity of actors of the General Headquarters of the "Henin-Beaumont pour Vous" list campaign. Henin-Beaumont belongs to the Federation of Mayors of Mid-Sized Cities. Well, to date, no study on the NF has been interested in its "propaganda" strategy (Kalinowski, 2005) for a mid-sized city and during an election campaign, even less for a municipal. The idea was to slide, over a period of several weeks from Flanders to Pas-de-Calais, from the status of participant observer outside of the group, to that of active member at the periphery of the central group, thus, integrated in the group (Strauss, Corbin, and Soulet, 2004). This process offered the researcher the opportunity to situate himself somewhere between simply "taking part" and being "uncovered." Thus, the necessity of reacting, at the spur of the moment, when confronted with the unexpected (II), was the most challenging aspect. Moreover, it is this absence, of a recent localized investigation through direct observation over an extended period, of a political enterprise still provoking concerns and anathemas that propelled us to study what the FN electoral campaigns do to the researcher and his analytical tools.

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