Professor Vieten: Individualized Profit and Socialized Risk Fuel Far-Right Populism

Dr. Ulrike M. Vieten points out that the 2008 economic crisis played a significant role in exacerbating people’s anxieties, highlighting that “profit is individualized while risk is socialized.” This economic instability, coupled with the recent pandemic, has deepened the feeling of insecurity across Europe. These socio-economic factors, she argues, have paved the way for the far-right’s rise, as people seek to channel their distress and anger. Drawing parallels with the normalization of far-right ideologies in the early 20th century, Vieten underscores that this historical context is crucial in recognizing how quickly societal values can shift and the dangers of complacency.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

As critical European Parliament elections take place across Europe, Dr. Ulrike M. Vieten, an Assistant Professor in Sociology of Gender, Migration and Racisms, at Queen’s University Belfast, points out that the 2008 economic crisis played a significant role in exacerbating people’s anxieties, referencing German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, by highlighting that "profit is individualized while risk is socialized." This economic instability, coupled with the recent pandemic, has deepened the feeling of insecurity across Europe, particularly among young people and students who lost their jobs. These socio-economic factors, she argues, have paved the way for the far-right’s rise, as people seek to channel their distress and anger.

In an interview with European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) on Friday, Professor Vieten discussed the complex dynamics driving the rise of populist and far-right parties in Europe, one of the most affluent regions globally. Professor Vieten, a historical sociologist, offers valuable insights into the multifaceted factors contributing to this phenomenon. "The emergence of far-right, particularly racist populism, is surprising in such a wealthy continent. In my view, this has to do with the population itself; it is a class issue," she explains, emphasizing the middle class’s fear of losing social status and the sense of entitlement that fuels these fears.

The professor also underscores the importance of understanding history to grasp the current political landscape. Drawing parallels with the normalization of far-right ideologies in the early 20th century, she notes, "The shocking reality is that within just ten years, a very cosmopolitan, modern, and diverse society like Germany in the late 1920s could suddenly transform into a monocultural, antisemitic, and racist society." This historical context is crucial in recognizing how quickly societal values can shift and the dangers of complacency.

Addressing the role of migration as a propeller of far-right populism, Professor Vieten explains how the politicization of migration creates divisions and anxieties. She highlights the interconnectedness of the housing crisis and xenophobic sentiments, exacerbated by media and political rhetoric. "The ideologically loaded notion of migration and migrants is something that has developed over the years," she notes, pointing to the lack of effective strategies to address these issues.

In combating the influence of far-right populism, Professor Vieten advocates for a culture of open-mindedness, solidarity, social justice, and equality. She emphasizes the need for counter-mobilization against authoritarian tendencies and the importance of cultivating anti-racism bystander habits to challenge the normalization of exclusionary ideologies.

Through this interview, Professor Vieten provides a nuanced understanding of the rise of far-right populism in Europe, rooted in historical context and contemporary socio-economic challenges. Her insights call for a concerted effort to address these issues and promote a more inclusive and equitable society.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Professor Ulrike M. Vieten with some edits.

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