Few remarks by the visiting PhD Candidate
Getting closer to the end of my 5-months research fellowship at the Media and Communication Department, I take this blog post as an opportunity to say a few words about the subject of my research interest, to reflect on what these five months meant for my PhD research project and also how the visit helped me to think differently about the subject of my study.
I am PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science at the Comenius University in Bratislava. For a political scientist, going for a research fellowship to a Media and Communication Department could seem to be a bit out of place. However, as I´ve found out, the interdisciplinary perspective may be a very challenging, inspiring and encouraging experience.
For several years I have been studying far-right groups and parties in the context of Central and Eastern European region, both within academia as well as the non-governmental sector. This context is important for understanding the departure point of my principal research interest. In my PhD research, I explore the concept of vigilantism in the context of the Slovak society, in particular in relation to the initiatives that either explicitly or implicitly challenge the ability (or willingness) of state authorities to execute justice. Coming from the field of far-right studies, in my research this primarily refers to the far-right paramilitary groups that organize street patrols and/or military and combat trainings, justified by the increasing public perceptions of injustice and the failing state. These patrols act without any authority or legitimacy, aiming to monitor and control the public space. In other words, vigilantes.
Such activities are, of course, heavily accompanied by the narratives referring to the alleged security threat coming from minorities, immigrants and refugee communities. In fact, it is a very similar narrative to the one used to justify state surveillance activities – let´s just look back at the war against terrorism. We can assume that people tend to support intensified surveillance (and, at the same time, sacrifice part of their privacy and freedoms) when they feel that their security is at stake. But does this logic also apply to non-state actors, such as the far-right vigilantes? Do they have a higher chance to be publicly accepted or even supported, even if they directly challenge the internal sovereignty of the state, as well as its monopoly on the use of violence? Is it, for some people, worth it to put their confidence to self-proclaimed guardians of justice, even though there is always the possibility that one day it could be them who find themselves on the other side, if the moral code suddenly changes?
These questions seem to be extremely interesting in the context of the Central and Eastern Europe, especially at the background of the growing distrust of the citizens in the state and its security agencies, as well as their ability to provide and guarantee justice, but also because of the extent to which the society is polarized. After all, activities of a vigilante nature can be also found “on the other side”, by which I mean the civil society, that is looking for their own ways to fight extremism and radicalization when the state cannot (or will not) intervene. This is why I find my research topic so interesting – but challenging as well.
For me as a PhD scholar, who was trying to step back and see the bigger picture of the far-right activities and their success as well as the consequences and implications of their activities in the society, it is inevitable to think more about the role of the internet, digital media and mediated feeling of security in the practices of the contemporary far-right – and civic society in general. The Media and Communication Department, especially thanks to the research team working on the topics of surveillance and digital vigilantism, was a right and inspiring place to be to get a fresh perspective. Now I´m intensively thinking about how my perception of the topic changed and shifted – in the positive way, of course. Even though it probably will, in the end, lead to substantial changes in the research design of my PhD Thesis. But if the PhD life isn´t challenging, it´s not fun, right?
Radka Vicenová is PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science at the Comenius University in Bratislava.