This post builds on the research article “Managing Hate: Political Delinquency and Affective Governance in Germany,” which was published in the February 2014 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.
Cultural Anthropology has published innovative analyses of right-wing extremism, including Ruchi Chartuvedi’s "'Somehow it Happened': Violence, Culpability, and the Hindu Nationalist Community” (2011); Arafaat A. Valiani’s “Physical Training, Ethical Discipline, and Creative Violence: Zones of Self-Mastery in the Hindu Nationalist Movement” (2010); and Richard Price’s "Executing Ethnicity: The Killings in Suriname” (1995).
Cultural Anthropology has also published a variety of articles relating to youth delinquency, including Kevin Lewis O’Neill’s “Left Behind: Security, Salvation, and the Subject of Prevention” (2013); Donna Perry’s “Fathers, Sons, and the State: Discipline and Punishment in a Wolof Hinterland” (2009); Daniel Hoffman’s “The City as Barracks: Freetown, Monrovia, and the Organization of Violence in Postcolonial African Cities” (2007); and Rosalind Shaw’s “Displacing Violence: Making Pentecostal Memory in Postwar Sierra Leone” (2007).
Cultural Anthropology has also covered a variety of issues in Germany, including Partridge, Damani’s “We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats, and Exclusionary Incorporation into the New Europe” (2008); John Borneman and Stefan Senders’s “Politics without a Head: Is the 'Love Parade' a New Form of Political Identification?” (2000); and Dominic C. Boyer’s “On the Sedimentation and Accreditation of Social Knowledges of Difference: Mass Media, Journalism, and the Reproduction of East/West Alterities in Unified Germany” (2000).
About the Author
Nitzan Shoshan´s work has explored the place of young right-wing extremists in the political and social landscape of post-reunification Berlin as integral to a regime of affective governance and an emergent nation-building project. His interests have focused especially on racism, ultra-nationalism, xenophobic violence, and political extremism; ethnic difference configured in urban space; historical narrative and the politics of memory; and neoliberal governance and multicultural politics in Europe. Shoshan is currently completing a project that examines technologies of governing affective relations to cultural alterity and of fabricating political commitments in contemporary Germany through ethnographic research on intercultural work in Berlin. He is also conducting research on political temporalities with citizen committees in Mexico City.
For more information about Nitzan Shoshan’s research project and publications, visit his webpage.
Other Works by Nitzan Shoshan
with Andrea Muehlebach. 2012. "Post-Fordist Affect: Introduction." Anthropological Quarterly 85, no. 2:317–44.
2012. "Time at a Standstill: Loss, Accumulation, and the Past Conditional in an East Berlin Neighborhood." Ethnos 77, no. 1:24–49.
2011. "Neoliberal Displacements: Political Delinquency and the Eclipse of the Social in Germany.” The Carceral Notebooks, 6: 33–47.
2008. “From SS to Stasi and Back Again? Ossis, Wessis, and Right-Extremists.” In Contemporary East Germany, edited by Donald Backman and Aida Sakalauskaite, 241–66. London: Cambridge Scholars Press.
2008. “Placing the Extremes: Cityscape, Ethnic ‘Others,’ and Young Right Extremists in East Berlin.” Journal of Contemporary European Studies 16, no. 3: 377–91.
Sultan Doughan and Jonah S Rubin: How did you come to work on far-right and neo-fascist movements in Germany?
Nitzan Shoshan: My initial interest lay with the momentous political and social reconfigurations that transformed entire societies in the aftermath of state socialism, and which, for me as well as for other anthropologists at the time, raised a series of urgent questions about the contemporary state, about sovereignty, about democracy, and about recent shifts in the workings of late capitalism. In Germany, the end of socialism converged historically both with the emergence and consolidation of new post-Fordist realities and with the political transformations that reunification and the end of the Cold War set into motion. In that context, the almost overnight explosion of ultra-nationalist currents in the East presented a novel phenomenon. Of course, nationalism was hardly absent (to put it mildly) from dominant ideological discourses in the German Democratic Republic (GDR); just as, notwithstanding firm taboos, it appeared in various guises (or, often enough, in plain form) in the West. And still, the 1990s saw new configurations of nationalism and racist violence, especially (though, importantly, not exclusively) in the former East. The typical protagonists of this emergent far-right, xenophobic, and violent nationalism seemed to me to condense at least three crucial processes: the impact of new, post-Fordist regimes of social and spatial marginalization; the post-Socialist demise of productive economic activity in the East and the concomitant rise of the easterner as a subaltern national; and the historical and cultural paradoxes that surfaced within Germany’s newly defined political projects. It was an intuitive curiosity (which gradually turned into an increasingly substantiated conviction) that suggested to me that something crucial was happening with, and around, the groups that I eventually set out to study.
SD/JSR: What are the particular methodological and ethical challenges that are entailed with working with neo-fascist groups?
NS: There are two closely related yet also somehow distinct aspects to this question: the first more pragmatic or instrumental in nature and the second less so. It is difficult to speak here about neo-fascist groups at large, because the particular challenges that a researcher in this field might encounter depend on the nature of the groups (which could vary greatly, from delinquent street milieus or pensioners associations to clandestine cells or parliamentary parties), on the broader social and political context (which may persecute and exclude such groups or tolerate them to different extents) and, no doubt, on the identity of the researcher (being male and white made things easier, while being Jewish didn’t). In Germany, a relatively heavy-handed penal regime together with a broad cultural hostility toward the groups I studied result in special methodological difficulties. The greatest challenge for me no doubt consisted in gaining access to criminalized and persecuted milieus whose members had very good reasons to be paranoid. Once in the field and with my informants other problems presented themselves, central among which were questions of transparency and deception about who I was and what I was doing. The social workers laid out the ground rules for our collaboration and decided to present me to their clients as Nate from Chicago, rather than as Nitzan from Israel. Of course, numerous people in Berlin knew me by my real name, and keeping these two worlds safely apart—the one in which I was Nate and the one in which I was Nitzan—required strenuous vigilance. On several occasions I narrowly escaped exposure. Neither could I divulge my precise interests (much in the same way that research on racism usually cannot reveal its objectives) and instead I presented myself as an anthropologist studying youth, violence, and urban space. But the most acute ethical conundrums of my research have emerged during the writing process and concerned the politics of representation. For example, how to achieve a thick and nuanced description that would avoid the superficiality and one-dimensionality that characterize conventional renderings of my informants without downplaying their sordid political convictions and violent habits. This uncomfortable tension between proximity and distance runs throughout my work and, I have come to accept, cannot be resolved but only managed with care.
SD/JSR: How would you relate the “management of hate” by NGOs to a wider political frame of “regulating aversion” in a liberal democracy? Your articles seems to suggest that these NGOs are ensuring the rational subject who is told to conform and tolerate. Can you talk more about what it means to regulate extreme feelings of aversion, such as hate, in a liberal democracy such as Germany, both for people like Gino as well as for the wider German public?
NS: In my current project, I turn my attention to one such wider frame of affective governance that targets broad publics in Germany. In both cases, my argument about the management of hate concurs with Wendy Brown’s critique of the discourse of tolerance in several respects (as well as with Slavoj Zizek’s critique, which departs from a very different theoretical posture). Indeed, in Germany the shift from prosperity to tolerance as a national signifier (an incomplete and tentative process, to be sure) answers the need to manage newly marginalized populations and regulate post-Fordist affects. And yet, in contemporary Germany the management of hate appears imbricated in a convoluted politics of memory on the one hand, and in the political stakes that mark the present and future of the Federal Republic on the other (both are ultimately two sides of the same coin). The tensions and contradictions that this project manifests become evident not only in therapeutic procedures such as the ones I analyze in the article, but also in legal codes, surveillance mechanisms, and penal regimes that come to bear on people like Gino, as well as in far more extensive campaigns to regulate aversion in the so-called mainstream. In other words, the management of hate is only partially invested in the fabrication of supposedly rational and conformist citizens. It is about biopolitics, to be sure, but it is always also—and perhaps sometimes, especially in Germany, even more significantly—about other kinds of politics. Accordingly, I consider it important not only to examine it as a mechanism of rational governance, but also to document and reflect on its excesses, on those moments when it does not seem to correspond to any rational calculation. Looking at affective governance this way suggests a set of theoretical problems that are different in kind from those of regulating aversion.
SD/JSR: What aspect of this sort of management of hate do you regard as particular to the German experience? What other sorts of managements of hate can we see around the world? Are they embedded in a discourse of tolerance and historical past?
NS: Even in Europe, the contrasts are sometimes quite sharp, say between Sweden, where one finds many initiatives; Hungary, where they are far less developed; or Serbia, where (as Jessica Greenberg recently told me) German foundations and NGOs export expert know-how in technologies of affective governance. Whether as legal codes or as cultural proscriptions, no doubt we could also count the regulation of hate crimes and hate speech, and debates about this regulation, as relevant for this field. It’s important not to forget, however, that at stake in the management of hate is not always and everywhere its reduction, but rather its orchestration, its orientation and social distribution, and sometimes, as in a number of cases around the world today, its incitement. So tolerance is not necessarily the key discursive trope everywhere. Consider Mexico, for example, where non-discrimination rather than tolerance seems central to debates about racism, perhaps because its indigenous subalterns figure as internal, rather than external others. All this notwithstanding, I think that the German case is exceptional, partly because of the peculiar promise of self-redemption that the management of hate signals, partly because it appears critical for redeeming the national Thing, and partly, too, because it runs against, complements, and emerges from particularly powerful cultural taboos and legal prohibitions.
SD/JSR: In your description of Gino you seem to indicate that he was actually able to enact two different bodily registers. What does it mean to walk like a neo-Nazi and be recognizable? When would one walk like that and be recognizable to whom? Would you say that Gino performs a particularly marked neo-Nazi corporeality?
NS: Gino certainly counted among my more extroverted informants, especially when it came to fashion and style, but many others in his social milieu similarly wore their political leanings on their sleeves. Doing so constituted a complex performance that involved not only so-called body language, but also a range of other visibility operators that were tactically and interactionally deployed in intricate combinations. Often such performances effectively differentiated between distinct audiences. Consider Gino’s HASS tattoo, spread across his four fingers and featuring the illegal SS symbol. Gino’s decision to transform it into four playing cards largely sprang from the legal trouble it had brought upon him. Covering even one of the “S” letters with rings, which he always carried in his pocket for this purpose, protected him from legal repercussions (the law prohibits the public display of the symbol). But of course it left the fact of the tattoo quite palpably evident to anyone in the know. The same careful management of legibility and visibility governs the use of jewelry, apparel, or, indeed, bodily style, all of which are adjusted depending on circumstances and audiences so as to plainly announce a neo-Nazi identity, to whisper it to intimates, or to silence it altogether. Such performances are differential communicative acts that solicit certain forms of recognition, or, to draw on Allan Feldman’s term, that address themselves to distinct visibility regimes.
-- The website for the NGO, EXIT
1. In this article, Shoshan argues that the “management of hate addressed not only—perhaps not primarily—the political delinquents…[I]ts addressee is the far wider national public” (167). Think of other governmental and non-governmental attempts to manage hate (racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.). What causes do governments and NGOs posit as the causes of those hatreds? What might their strategies for managing hate reveal about the broader political community?
2. Imagine that you are designing a research project to study right-wing extremist groups, either in Germany or elsewhere. How would you design such a study? How does Shoshan design his research methodology in both the article and the interview above? What methods would you use? How would researching such a topic similar to and different from, for example, researching other marginalized groups?