Tina Wilchen Christensen

Tina Wilchen Christensen

Roskilde University

Thesis: A question of participation – Disengagement from the extreme rights, a case Study from Sweden

Research supervisor: Prof. Peter Hervik

I have by now done my field work, transcribed all the interviews and have started the analytical part of the research. I am struggling to describe and understand identity and selfunderstanding. Since the overall aim for my thesis is to illuminate, how former right-wing extremist come to change their self-understanding and identity.

My aim is first to describe my informants’ identity and self-understanding, while active members of the extremist right-wing. Then, I will move on to interpret the process motivating them to make a decision of disengagement. Till today, when they have been though an EXIT program and understand and identified them-selves as reintegrated in democratic society. My informants’ story of change of self-understanding and identity, show in what ways social interaction is crucial in our identity construction. Already by this presentation, I am also saying that identity is a concept referring to an ongoing process, where we always are in a process of becoming.

By using terms such as figured world – a concept used by Holland et al (1998) referring to frames of interpretation in a world condition by culture and its objects – is a useful theory. As it can draw attention to how, when dealing with extremist, we are often let to believe that the ideological convention – being an essential part of participation in terrorism or/and disengagement – is a question of an individual decision of adherence. An understanding my research among others (Bjørgo and Horgan: 2009, 2005,2001, Christensen 2009 A + B) is contesting.

As we already know, we are not autonomous in deciding, who we are becoming, as we engage in the world, since we also depend on the positions available to us. As my research also shows, how we construct our self-understanding thought participation in different social contexts. As well as how we create our identity by the means available to us in these different contexts. Therefore, to be able to show the social context’s importance in the subjects becoming that of a right-wing extremist as well as the disengagement process, the cultural-historical schools general focus on the cultural and social context we engage in, has a strong explanatory power.

My understanding of identity is thus in line with that of Dorothy Holland et al (1998), where identity is partly essential – in the sense that we carry our history with us – which is based on concepts and ideas from L. S. Vygotsky and M. M. Bakhtin. This theoretical approach joins the cultural-historical developmental approaches that posit that people form identities over time as they interact with others in relation to a culturally defined sphere of action (Holland et al 1998; Holland 2000; Holland and Lave 2001).This vision of identity emphasizes that identities are improvised—in the flow of activity within specific social situations—from the cultural resources at hand. Thus persons are caught in the tensions between past histories, that have settled in them and the present discourses and images that attract them (Holland et al: 1998:4).

The strength of this approach is that it becomes possible to illuminated, how we become, who we presently are, through participation in specific and cultural defined actions, social practices and interaction with others.  The result is an understanding of identity, as self in practices, which direct our focus at both the social context we engage in, and the position being available to us in that practice (Holland et al: 1998). Thus the approach can informs us, in which ways we are not sole producers of our identity, and how we are also dependent on, which available positions there are offered to us in any given social context.

Therefor as I am going to use theories based on the socio-cultural-historical school I have a strong wish to participate in the summer school of 2014. I hope to be able to gain a much deeper understanding of the term identity and agency and how these terms interact and is constituted by culturally defined sphere of action through discussion with other researchers working with the same concepts. My PhD fellow Anne Mia Steno from Roskilde University – who is also applying for this summer university school – and I are working on an article about qualitative methodological approaches to identities. We therefore, very much, hope to be able to join – both of us – and be challenged in the discussions and presentations in this year’s summer school at ISCAR.